As the mother of rising 5th, 7th and 9th grade children, the end of the year brings lots of bittersweet feelings, nostalgia for the toddler years, and anxiety about next school year. Up until now, though, school has been a known quantity - I know many of the teachers and the system at the elementary school where my daughters and son all were/are students, and I work at the same middle school they will pass through. For the first time, though, with my son going into 9th grade, I don't really know what to expect.
Even as an adult, our local high school seems like a big and scary place, with many hallways, stairwells and almost a thousand students. The students are much bigger than middle school students; they seem supremely self-assured, like they own the hallways.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to accompany my advisory students to the high school (which is just across the street from our middle school) as they had their first orientation, called "Step Up" day. I was probably as excited/nervous as they were as we walked in, and I realized that I could get a good idea of what my son's high school life might be like next year by being there.
When I taught Spanish, I had more than 100 students every year, so I ran into many former students there. It was reassuring to see them grown and changed. We took a tour of the school and observed classes in action, all the while led by our high school student leaders. I was struck by some of the things I observed.
1. Middle school children eventually do become young adults. There is a transformation that happens that is incredible to see on the other end:
- Awkward young teens become beautiful and unique young people.
- Pesky kids who drove us crazy mature and become serious about academics.
- Kids about whom I worried turned out awesome.
- Kids I never thought would make it are going to great colleges or have other great plans, and are involved in ways I could never have imagined.
2. These high school students were much more confident and unafraid to be themselves than I remember my peers and me in my high school experience.
3. There was a level of independence and responsibility that I found refreshing. It made me wonder if we are preparing our students well enough at the middle school to handle that independence.
4. There didn't seem to be "popular" groups or lots of cliques. Of course, I didn't see the cafeteria in action, so I could be wrong.
5. The range of choices students have is really incredible. From photography, with a real darkroom, to pottery, to 2-D and 3-D art, acting, and so on - the choices were wide-ranging and exciting.
6. The advice the student panel gave the middle school kids was mature, sage advice! Like: "Get to know your teachers really well" and "Focus on your academics" and "You need to be accountable for your own work, no one will be after you for you to finish it." All things that sound very adult.
As I left the high school with my advisory, I felt reassured, amazed by the quality and passion of the high school teachers, and excited for my son's upcoming high school experience, hoping he will find his niche and take full advantage of all the opportunities.