Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sifting Through Middle Schools

At ten, Miss M is now in her last year of the small elementary school she has attended since she was three years old. How I have loved the Thackston School—the kind attentiveness to its students; the flexibility and accommodation for working parents; and the community sense of fun and belonging for both. It’s been a great experience, and I’m glad third-grade Boy Wonder still has more than two years left (besides, a few more years of "kind attentiveness" to Boy Wonder’s massive organizational deficits are definitely in order).

Anticipating Miss M’s transition, we’ve begun the process of attending open houses at area middle schools and having Miss M shadow current students for the day. Her experience has been mixed. The private school we thought she would love and insist upon, if only because of its brand name recognition and the fact that every student has an iPad—left her flat. Some of this may have been the fault of how her parents and the admissions office staged her visit. (Note to self: Never throw a middle-schooler into a day shadowing a student when said middle-schooler hasn’t even had a tour of the facilities.) (Note to admissions office: Rather than leaving a currently paying student to do your work for you, SOME responsible adult associated with the admissions office should be present and available to prospective students for at least part of the day, if only to point out where the library is and hand off said student to his/her parents.) A larger part of her disinterest, however,  seems to have been the perception of cliques and exclusivity in the hallways and public spaces of the school.  "No one talks to each other, Mom," Miss M noted when I picked her, "They just stay in their little groups and move around the hallways without saying hello or talking to each other.  Some kids are totally alone."


Another area school—one we have considered off and on through the years—captured Miss M’s interest with its friendly students and beautiful setting. I can attest personally to the happy noise and cheerfulness of the student population there, having been almost bowled over in the hallways by the enthusiastic swarms of middle schoolers changing classes.  It left Miss M--and me--with a positive view of the place.  (And they have chickens!  And a tennis court!) 

Today, Miss M is visiting a third school, and I’ll be interested to hear her thoughts, especially given that religion would be a heavy focus during the school year.  I'm not sure this school will be the right choice, but it's good to have a basis for comparison.

So which school is the right one? Honestly, my expectations are not that high. Being a middle-schooler is hard, especially for girls, who seem to be a magnet for drama and social stress in those critical years. Reducing those stresses, maintaining a focus on something other than boys and one’s personal appearance, and perhaps even learning a thing or two—in a safe, considered, and careful environment—that’s the sum of my expectations.  If we can get Miss M to that place, I’ll be perfectly happy. 

And I hope she will be, too.  I'll keep you posted.


barbara flynn said...

"Happy noise and cheerfulness" sounds to me like a good environment for an 11-year old girl looking for a new school. I was wondering about the class sizes and ratio of teachers to students. And do they offer some kind of music and maybe art? The iPad would be great but doesn't Miss M have this available at home?
Glad to read this blog. Sounds like making the rounds of middle schools here is very worthwhile. Probably you have had conversations with parents and maybe students of these schools also. Keep posting. Best, BJF

big genie said...

I enjoyed this story about middle school: