CIHS all-school read teaches students about kindness

By Elizabeth Sias

“The way I’ve got it figured, in life you get what you give.”

These were the words of Aaron “Marty” Martinson in a story inspired by his life.

During a two-week all-school read, students at Cambridge-Isanti High School are reading The Richest Man in Town and learning what Marty always knew—how a little kindness can make a difference and what it means to be happy.

“Like millions of people, I thought success equaled happiness,” author V.J. Smith wrote in the introduction. “The book I’ve written, though, is about a simple man who ran a cash register. He worked hard and was good to people. That, in turn, made him happy. Can it be so simple—so free of complications? Marty thought so. He showed me how to be a better person, not one wealthier or more successful or more powerful.”

Earlier this school year, the students watched a presentation called Rachel’s Challenge about a girl, Rachel Scott, who believed that “if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”

Teacher Kristi Fobbe reads to 10th though 12th graders during an all-school read held at Cambridge-Isanti High School. Photos by Elizabeth Sias

High School Literacy Coach Audrey Clough said the all-school read is a continuation of that message. Every day from March 14 to 26, teachers read a couple chapters from the short story, and students answer questions about what they’ve learned.

It’s part of the new time devoted to directed study. For 30 minutes a day three days a week, students have a study hall session. On Tuesdays, they work on math to review and prepare for the MCA this spring, and on Thursdays, they have reading. To kick off the new study time this trimester, every day for that 30-minute session is spent reading from The Richest Man in Town until they finish the book.

“I just love to see all these people reading,” Clough said. “It’s just kind of spreading like wildfire.”

Students listen as CIHS teacher Jackie Swanson reads from The Richest Man in Town.

Students have been recommending books to each other, as well as sharing books with teachers, she said.

The story is about Marty, a cashier at his local Walmart who made a special connection with everyone he encountered. He became well-known in his own community of Brookings, S.D., and beyond for shaking everyone’s hand and brightening their day simply by paying attention and listening to people.

The author became a good friend of Marty’s and helped spread his message of kindness to the world through speeches and the book.

Through their time together, Smith said Marty taught him three simple life lessons that contributed to Marty’s fulfillment and happiness: “Relationships matter most in life;” “Try to do a little more;” and “Only you can make you happy.”

CIHS teacher Kent Viesselman pauses from reading to share a personal story related to the book.

“It really touches everyone’s life, and the kids are loving it,” Clough said. “We try to really personalize it and after chapters, they’ll answer questions like ‘What is the source of happiness? What is Marty’s philosophy? What are you particularly grateful for that you sometimes take for granted?’”

Through Marty, students will learn how they, too, can make change and “do a little more,” such as doing a favor for someone, giving compliments, showing gratitude, lending a helping hand and much more.

“We all can be a Rachel or a Marty,” Clough said.