Middle School

Gettin’ Low at a Middle School Dance

As much as I’ve gone out dancing in the past few years, at clubs like Blondie’s, Vertigo, and Double Dutch, I still felt apprehensive about attending a middle school dance. Since I didn’t learn to love freestyle dancing until college, I’d only been to one dance while at Altimira: the 8th grade graduation dance, where a shy Asian boy who’d had a crush on me asked me to dance to Mariah Carey’s “Hero.” (Was it really only 4 minutes, 23 seconds long? I think we must have danced to the extended remix.) This time, for the Halloween Dance, I wondered if I’d know anyone there. Neither of the girls I’d shadowed were going, only some of their friends whom I knew peripherally. I wondered if I’d have to be that creepy grown-up dancing alone, and if I could even dance “appropriately” to hip-hop without looking ridiculous.

I arrived late, after the doors had already been shut, sneaking in through the unlocked bathroom right before a teacher sealed it off. I had, however, already been granted free admission, not needing to buy a ticket at lunch like the rest of my classmates because I’d planned to chaperone for part of the time. Leadership teacher Mr. Ryan (a.k.a. Andrew, my classmate from Altimira who’d ended up teaching at the school) emailed me to share the guidelines to be enforced: “No PDA, hands where they are supposed to be, no leaving the dance then coming back in, no running, no making out!!!” He added, “Just kidding, I have never seen that here.”


Seventh Grade: Feeling Old But Evolved

Given that seventh graders tend to be more standoffish than sixth, I felt a little apprehensive before starting seventh grade this morning. Luckily, it turned out that I had nothing to fear. As I told a friend today, middle school is a lot easier to handle the second time round. It helps that I don’t worry nearly as much about what the kids think of me. I’ve already embraced the silliness of my pretending to be a kid, so I don’t embarrass easily. Since I often felt humiliated as a student at Altimira, being shy and overly sensitive, I’m pleased with this progress.

I met my student guide, Carolina, at her first period P.E. class out on the blacktop. Thinly built with black curls and dark eyes, she greeted me with a shy smile. As we chatted about her schedule for the day, her classmates began to ask the usual questions about who I was, so I made a general announcement. I’m so used to talking to groups of middle schoolers from my work with Spark, as well as substitute teaching, that I feel pretty comfortable with what can be a tough crowd.


Teacher Training Day and Sixth-Grade Lunchtime Tales

This will be a quick update, because it’s again well after midnight, and my body is telling me that it’s fed up with my late-night writing sessions. Last night I stayed up until 4 a.m. writing about my rediscovery of music. There’s no telling when creative inspiration will strike, but I am going to start begging the muse to visit me at a reasonable hour. The chest pains and tightness that I’ve experienced on and off for the better part of this year have plagued me consistently this week. Even though I tell myself that no activity — not even learning a cool new song on guitar — is worth putting my body through the wringer, I get into a trance while on the computer late at night. One of these days, I will learn to like sleeping. Ever since I was a baby, I’ve always preferred to be awake and doing things to going to bed. It may be time to for another mandatory Day of Doing Nothing.

One note: While I was at my elementary school, I refrained from using its name to maintain a bit of anonymity. However, there’s no mystery about what middle school I’d attended because there was only one in town at the time I was a preteen, and its name was also emblazoned on my P.E. shirt. I’ve been calling the middle school by name, Altimira, and from now on, I’ll do the same for my elementary school, El Verano.


Madly in Love in Middle School

This week I’ve become consumed by a powerful obsession that has precluded all other activities. I haven’t been blogging much. I don’t want to sleep. I forget to eat — which hardly ever happens. I want to do nothing else but spend time with the object of my affection. I’ve fallen in love, as middle schoolers tend to do. I have only recently become acquainted with the guitar, but I am completely, head over heels, crazy about it.

My introduction to the guitar was a fluke (or perhaps, as you romantics may believe, it was destiny). The other day, when I was on campus at my elementary school, one of my best third grade friends, whom I’ll call Lisa, pulled me into an after-school guitar lesson. Lisa is the most adorable little blond creature I know, yelling my name with glee whenever she spots me, giving me bone-crushing bear hugs, and swinging my hand as we walk down the halls. She insisted, “You HAVE to come to guitar!” and since I’ve always wanted to try it anyway, I attended my first lesson with the Little Kids Rock program. The nonprofit trains schoolteachers to give lessons at their sites and, stunningly, provides instruments — in our case, guitars — that the students get to keep. The Little Kids Rock programs, as well as programs run by foundations like VH1’s Save the Music, have often filled in the gaps that have been left by budget cuts in public schools.


P.E. Class: I’ll Take the Physical Challenge

The experience that I remember most vividly from middle school is P.E. (Physical Education). I remember hating the class because I didn’t consider myself the least bit athletic. When I was little, I’d enjoyed playing pickup baseball and basketball, but I later developed a performance anxiety that held me back from doing any official team sport. My P.E. teacher, Mrs. Garner, always seemed surprised at my lack of sports interest and skill because she swore that I “walked like an athlete.” I did not find this complimentary at the time, envisioning myself swinging my arms in a lolling, ape-like caveman stride. Did I actually walk that way?


Back in middle school, the only things I remember liking about P.E. were:

1) Square dancing, especially with my crushes.

2) Pickleball, a game like ping pong played on a tennis court. We were coincidentally playing Pickleball this week, and I found that I still have some skillz.

3) Mr. Turner, the hot new 25-year-old P.E. teacher. I imagine that good-looking Mr. Andrew Ryan, who graduated from Altimira the same year I did and now teaches P.E. and Leadership, is the new Mr. Turner for the current middle school girls.


Middle School: Some Things Never Change

Middle school. Junior high. These are words that often bring up humiliating memories of sweaty palms at school dances and frustrated tears in the girls’ bathroom. People tend to raise their eyebrows when I say that I’m returning to middle school and say, “Well, THAT should be interesting. I would never go back.”

I first set foot on the campus of Altimira Middle School as a grown-up a few weeks ago, when I introduced Reschool Yourself at the weekly staff meeting. Afterward, I stuck my head into the gym and watched the kids run around in their P.E. uniforms, a flood of memories of relays and tumbling and square dancing came back. Without warning, I felt tears welling up. It was bizarre, because I hadn’t realized that my middle school memories still carried such a strong emotional charge. Clearly, there would be some psychological processing in my future.


Keeping Secrets in Sixth Grade

Today I started middle school — a different campus, and completely different world. There’s nothing I’d like better than to share my first action-packed day of sixth grade, but unfortunately it’s after 2:30 a.m. and I need to be up in less than five hours. I’ve spent all night developing the plans for the spring phase of Reschool Yourself and can’t wait to share those with you, as well. Apparently my middle schooler classmates have taught me the art of keeping a secret…and then blabbing it the next day. As soon as I have a moment, I’ll write about:

– Changing in the locker room and running the track in P.E. clothes

– Standing around in a patented pre-teen cluster at lunch

– Triggering a variety of memories about classes, teachers, and personal dramas

I’m going to try a new approach of simply documenting what I’ve experienced each day without necessarily commenting on its greater significance. I hope this will let me share more as I go, and I can put on my psychology hat later. For now I’ll say that I’m in sixth grade this week, seventh next week, and eighth the following.

Ugggh, I just remembered that I didn’t do my homework, and there’s a test on the Language Arts selection first thing in the morning. Guess who’ll be getting up extra early to cram?