I expected 8th grade to be as emotionally turbulent as I’d remembered it, with kids constantly eye-rolling, scoffing, teasing, and just generally being too cool to talk to you. I admit to being one of the worst offenders. The current 8th graders at Altimira are nice. Let me repeat that: They’re nice! The ones I’ve encountered smile at me and each other; they chat with their classmates, even the ones they’re not close with; and they genuinely seem to care about each other. It’s not just for my benefit as a grown-up, either — the kids confirm that they think the school has a culture of tolerance this year.
In fact, most of the kids I’ve met and observed at Altimira right now act this way. I say “at Altimira right now,” because not all modern middle schoolers are like this. Having worked closely with other 6th-8th graders recently, I can confirm that some are the cruel little buggers that you may remember from your own middle school days: the stuck-up popular “mean girls” that have gotten so much press recently, or the kid who makes himself look good by calling attention to people’s weaknesses. Those I’ve talked to say that there were more kids like this at Altimira over the last couple of years, but they’ve either gone onto the high school or have transferred to the school for struggling students. My 8th grade buddy, whom I’ll call Janessy, says, “The popular kids act totally different when they’re in class than they are with their friends. They sometimes try to make their friends laugh by picking on people.” But for the most part, the kids agree that while there’s a known popular group in each grade, “the populars” aren’t that snobby or mean, and it’s not a huge deal if you’re not in the in-crowd. People do their own thing, and that’s fine.