I said this often as elementary school ended, despite all evidence to the contrary. My arms jiggled more and my kids rolled their eyes more, which indicated to me that we were all getting older. There was no way around it. Jacob and Zachary would soon leave the protective cocoon of their elementary experience to embark on a journey through acne, braces, and bad hair.
And those aren’t even the worst middle school possibilities.
Jacob and Zachary had thrived in their small, private Jewish elementary school. Their teachers and administrators consistently focused on academic excellence and shared values. I always felt reassured that I was sending my kids to a place where they felt safe and loved.
They’d also learned an endless supply of Jewish jokes.
Unfortunately, their school was only elementary and middle. Wouldn’t it be better to make the transition to public school after 5th grade, rather than ninth? Marc and I had much to consider. Although we heard many ideas from other families, every single kid is different and one solution doesn’t work for everyone.
Wait, that’s not true.
A loving family, quiet time, and endless supply of Benadryl works for everyone, but other decisions need to be adjusted based on the individuals involved.
I wanted my kids to stay gold for as long as possible. I didn’t want to provide hundreds of ways for them to explore their rebellious side – personality traits that make them opinionated and curious. After several years in classrooms with two teachers and 15 kids, most of whom were brilliant and well-behaved, I thought it cruel and maybe even dangerous to toss them into a crowd of 1,200 students, some of whom use weapons and curse words to express themselves, all while crammed inside buildings built for half that size.
But overcrowding wasn’t my only concern. I worried about a thug element, an entitled and spoiled element, and a certain young-girls-who-look-like-hookers element.
Not only did I remember my own experiences from sixth to eighth grade, I once taught at a middle magnet school. Based on those experiences, I was concerned and almost always in need of anti-psychotic medication.
Instead, I toured prospective schools and tried not to scream.
When I started making the rounds, here’s what I did not want to see:
– Teachers dancing on tables.
– Unsupervised locker rooms.
– Boys with more bling and longer rap sheets than Lil Wayne.
– Girls auditioning for next year’s Teen Mom.
– Teachers who looked as frazzled as I felt.
– Male students playing with their facial hair.
– Teachers playing with their students’ facial hair.
– Administration officials who either looked like they’re on drugs or should be.
– A smoking section for eighth graders.
– Girls who want to be Lady Gaga.
– Clubs that recruited S &M freaks, Marilyn Manson fans, or Young Republicans.
– Boys who want to be Lady Gaga.
As I began this agonizing and anxiety-ridden project, researching public schools, I realized quickly that choosing a middle school was the most important decision of our lives.
Marc couldn’t help but smile.
“More important than choosing pediatricians?” he asked. “You told me we had to interview dozens of physicians because they’d be making life-or-death decisions for our babies. What about when we looked for preschools? You said we had to pay a fortune for the Jewish Community Center because early education set the stage for the next 20 years. Is this middle school issue even more important than countless family meetings when we had to choose between Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien?”
Despite Marc’s attempt at humor, he agreed that middle school was our new priority. When poring over data and statistics, we wanted to see:
– Black, Hispanic, Christian, and Muslim students, as well as kids like ours, who spoke Hebrew and imitated Mel Brooks.
– Competitive physical education that would prepare Jacob and Zachary, talented athletes in their own right, for the challenges of playing high school sports.
– Between 600-800 students – not so small that our boys would be sheltered, but not so big they’d fall through the cracks, either.
– Uniforms. That’s right, this former punk groupie, who shaved her own head during junior high, wanted her kids to concentrate on learning rather than who has the lowest riding jeans.
– Access to technology.
– Teachers who demand respect and a little bit of fear.
– Early hours, but not so early that our children would be on the bus every morning before 5am.
– Decent cafeteria food.
Is all that too much to ask?