“Your mission, should you choose to accept it ….”

Jennifer Sovocool, Administrative Assistant, Facilities, Health and Safety, makes this announcement each week in an email to SAM staff members. She sets the scenes for weekly Mission Wars, the brainchild of Summit Academy Middle School – Akron Community Culture Coordinator Tom Fausnight. Mission Wars bring together three students, one each from grades six, seven and eight, a middle school staff member and an administration team member. They gather for competitions that are fun, challenging and bonding.

Mission Wars bring both balance and levity to a structured educational environment, explains Principal Crystal Yingling.

Summit Academy Middle School – Akron Behavior Specialist Stephanie Barnes and Community Culture Coordinator Tom Fausnight.

“I absolutely love Mission Wars. We often forget during our day that our students are still kids and enjoy kid things,” Yingling says. “There is such a push for us to make sure we are meeting standards and moving kids to close gaps we can lose sight of the small things. Mission Wars has been a way to bring a little fun into the school in a healthy competitive environment.”

A recent Mission War challenged participants to untangle knotted ropes, which were further complicated with obstacles like duct tape, key rings, beads and tiny drawstring-closed pouches attached at the end of the strands. Competitors were tasked with opening the pouches to find inside each, mini worry dolls and a note encouraging them to release their troubles.

Title 1 Teacher Tasha Hunter

Teacher Tasha Hunter, who placed second in the matchup, admits to having an edge with practice helping her three daughters untangle their necklaces. Safety and Security Services Director Evan McIntosh placed first in the mission while the students finished third, fourth and fifth, each of them demonstrating perseverance and positivity throughout the challenge.

“This is a team competition that teaches winning, losing and strategy,” says Fausnight, explaining that he designed Mission Wars with support from Principal Yingling and Behavior Specialist Stephanie Barnes to make middle school fun through competitions that encourage effort and camaraderie. “By playing this game with the students, it gives another opportunity build relationships between staff and students. As we play the games each week, kids get confidence in themselves and their team.”

Safety and Security Services Director Evan McIntosh

“I look forward to it every Tuesday. It makes me so excited to come to work and see the kids get excited about each Mission War,” adds Barnes. “The students encourage and cheer each other on. It really brings the classes together.”

Other missions have involved mini golf, challenging golfers to hit their balls near or in a bracket; a word game tasking participants to create three-letter words using toothpicks; and a timed math worksheet relay, to name a few.

“Most of our missions include an academic component so it combines fun with learning. It has also been a great way to help students understand that everyone in the building has value and strengths,” says Yingling. “The more they compete in mission wars the more they start to strategize and look for the positive qualities their classmates bring to the table.”

Hunter adds that the contests give students and staff members a chance to get to know each other on a more personal level. “The students love the chance to beat the staff at anything and this gives them a weekly outlet to try,” she says. “This is also our opportunity to see the hidden talents our students possess that we might not otherwise see.”

Mission Wars take place every Tuesday. Rounds begin at the start of each new grading period.