I admit, no part of me was ready for middle school when I put my beautiful, innocent daughter on the bus that sunny Monday morning, August 25, 2014. She was nervous and excited. I was terrified.
Waiting for the bus I found myself contemplating one simple question “What happened to middle school?” When I was a kid, 6th grade was part of the elementary school, from there, 7th and 8th graders could be found at the Junior High School and the “big” kids, 9th-12th graders, were at the High School. I was having flashbacks from the middle school open house we had attended in the spring, my first exposure to 8th graders. (Have you seen 8th graders today? They look like adults!) I just wasn’t ready to send my bow-wearing little girl off to such a big, scary school.
So what has changed? I can summarize the biggest changes to Middle School, as I knew it, like this:
Getting to school is not always easy: The bus proved to be a challenge very early on. One of the first few days my daughter came home in tears having been threatened over a seat. I learned through her recap of the incident that she had also been exposed to words that I would like to think she had never even heard much less had directed at her. I was horrified. I explained how it had nothing to do with her and more to do with a newly crowned 8th grader flexing her muscle. While delivering these parenting messages of “try to avoid conflict” and “don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself in a respectful way” I was asking myself “What happened to middle school?”
Fights happen: Hallway fights happen, and fairly often. Now many have told me that’s a normal part of middle school. Personally speaking, I can’t recall ever seeing a hallway fight in 6th grade, but maybe that’s a function of having grown up in such a wholesome, good part of the country (shout out to North Dakota). In reality, I think it’s because I grew up where kids were just sheltered longer being part of the elementary school. Nonetheless, I was asking myself “fighting in the halls – what happened to middle school?”
Text books are a thing of the past: Text books have been retired. This is a direct result of budget cuts that are impacting our students. Today kids create and carry things like an ISN, also known as an “interactive science notebook”. This is a composition notebook, duck taped to keep the spine together as it is stretched and expanded to be 15x it’s normal size. Instead of carrying an actual science text book they are given hand-outs in class which are then taped into this notebook. Positively they are truly a hands-on resource for students. As they tape the instructional handouts into the notebook they take notes, draw and highlight directly into the text. They own the creation of these tools and are taught how to organize notes and thoughts early on. What they lose is the ability to page forward in the book and see what is coming in the chapters ahead. I remember embracing my inner-nerd and always looking ahead to the next chapter, studying the glossy images of planets and maps. School without real books – What happened to Middle School?
Technology is foundational to the curriculum: Smart boards, cell phones, iPads. It’s a fact technology is a way of life and most 4 year olds can successfully navigate their way around a device at lightning speed. Having access to interactive learning and resources outside of a library is so great for our kids. What has struck me as different is how much the classrooms rely on it. Teachers post assignments on intranet and weebly sites. Students use cellphones in class to play trivia games against each other and the teacher. The risk with this is that cell phones are always accessible – passing notes has been replaced with sending texts. Pictures and videos can be snapped and shared in an instant and messages can go to large groups within in seconds. As a kid, I would have had to devote an entire day to spreading a rumor that can now be shared with the whole school in minutes. What has technology done to middle school?
Half-way through the year, I’m so happy to report my feelings of terror have been downgraded to simple fear. As for the question, what happened to Middle School? Who knows – it’s forever changed at this point. I’m not sure the change is all good or all bad, it’s simply different.