By Ryan Christner

The Hutchinson News

This was one street gang even the Greasers and the Socs likely wouldn't pick a fight with.

The entirety of the Hutchinson Middle School-7 student body -- about 350 students in all -- took a short field trip Monday afternoon, walking three blocks northwest to the Historic Fox Theatre for a special showing of the movie "The Outsiders."

In their English classes, the students had spent the past two weeks reading S.E. Hinton's 1967 novel about rival youth groups, on which the 1983 film was based. Once they were finished, the faculty and administration decided the students deserved a little something for their efforts.

"I just thought this would be a really special treat," said Alma Henry, a language arts teacher at HMS-7 whom Principal David Patterson called the "brainchild" of the activity.

"I thought, 'The worst he can do is say no,' " she said.

Some students and teachers, including Henry, dressed for the occasion. Reprising costumes worn during the school's recently concluded Spirit Week, which included Greaser Day, they wore denim jackets with folded bandanas wrapped around their heads.

Patterson said the department-wide assignment is part of a new approach after the district restructured its language arts curriculum to provide more equal instruction to all children. The school didn't have enough copies for all students to read at once, but most had finished the book before the excursion.

While this is Patterson's first year at the helm of the district's middle schools -- he previously served in USD 308 as the director of the Career and Technical Education Academy, an assistant principal at Hutchinson High School, and a marketing and entrepreneurship instructor -- he said it's rare to have every student read the same book at the same time. But, according to Henry, that policy will continue throughout the rest of the school year.

"We're trying to do more things where we have more curriculum across the board at all levels," Patterson said, adding that literacy and reading at grade level are major points of emphasis at HMS-7. "We don't want to have kids with any gaps."

Sporting his blue football jersey in preparation of a game later in the day, 12-year-old Christopher Reed was glad to get a reprieve from class. While he was hoping the theater's concession stand would be open so he could buy some candy, small buckets of popcorn were waiting for the students as they entered the building.

Christopher liked the book, although he said he was sad when one of the characters died. He said his favorite person in "The Outsiders" is the protagonist, Ponyboy Curtis.

"Ponyboy, he doesn't run his mouth very much," Christopher said. "He always keeps it silent."

The trip was paid for with funds generated through sales of discount cards. After a good start to the school year, said Patterson, it was easy to approve the expense.

"I thought it would be a great way to get everybody together and tell them 'Good job' and tie it in to literacy," he said.

(c)2014 The Hutchinson News