The birds and the bees in my bonnet

March 24, 2014 by Katy Brown
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Since the first day of Spring has come and gone with the wintery wind, I can use this time of year to say that I have a bee in my bonnet. Correction:  I have had a bee in my bonnet for some time.  I’ll blame snowstorms and snow days, chemical spills and a number of other interruptions for giving me more time to think about things that I ordinarily ignore. There’s an old saying of “having too much time on her hands.” I admit that I’ve had a lighter schedule since the first of the year, because as most working parents will tell you, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a job when schools are delayed or closed at least once a week.

So what’s this bee in my bonnet? Middle school. The very thought gives me hives. I guess I’m planting my hooves in the mud to avoid change, because I’m of the belief that eleven-year-olds don’t need access to full-fledged teenagers. I know, I know:  There’s nothing I can do about it.  Sixth grade was moved to middle school (or junior high) ages ago.  Go on or go homeschool.  Take your pick, Mom.

My complaint with this change is that it strips a year of childhood from our kids (in my limited opinion). As a parent, I feel like my daughter is being robbed of an innocence that’s owed to her. I’m irritated that a group of educators somewhere in the country think that kids should grow up faster.

Yes, I’m whining. I’m not ready to grow up as a mother, either.  But, to lessen the annoyance of that whining, I searched the Internet for reasons why I should look upon this “crossroads of development” with enthusiasm.

According to Public School Review, moving sixth graders out of elementary school was a financial decision for most districts in the nation. Elementary schools were splitting at the seams, while middle schools had plenty of room (clearly, no one studied Kanawha County’s profile). There was also an eagerness among families to get on with it. Boredom and restlessness tend to set in as kids reach sixth grade, and studies reveal that they’re excited to accept new challenges.

Here’s a preview:

1) Girls and boys change physically at this age and stage, with girls making the most obvious transformations in maturity.

2) Girls and boys start to notice each other in romantic ways.

3) Friends become more important than family.

4) Girls and boys are introduced to more adult themes and situations due to the older company they start to keep.

5) That older company also introduces new peer pressures, such as sexual activity, drug and alcohol experimentation.

6) Emotional instability due to those developmental changes produce an entirely new set of problems, which make an adolescent act more like a child from time to time.

I’m not enthused.

What about academics? Does any part of a sixth grader’s step up into the middle school ranks have anything to do with the classroom?

The website, Public School Review, also revealed that sixth graders that remained in elementary school for a final year scored higher on tests than those who were placed in middle school.  Why? Because teachers and counselors dedicated most of the year to managing the above-mentioned adjustments. In elementary school, the year was a continuation of similar subjects and studying. Some states (such as California) are revisiting this decision, with more than a few school boards re-routing sixth graders back to their elementary school bases. However, this poses another problem. Most buildings no longer have enough room, because policymakers filled sixth grade absences with preschool programs.

There has to be a bright side, right? Even though there are more behavioral problems in middle school because of the looser structure (more teachers, more students, more demographics, more socio-economic differences, and more influences), there are key points for sending kids on to the next level.

1) Sixth graders have more opportunities to make their own positive decisions, such as becoming members of groups, athletic organizations, and taking part in extra-curricular activities.

2) Sixth graders can break out of the shell (to some degree) to promote their own abilities and strengths. Rather than being lumped together with 50 kids that are treated alike, stand-outs can make names for themselves academically and establish their own scholastic paths.

Yes, the article stopped at two benefits. I had to search other sites and download white papers to find additional positive facts in this debate, which has been argued for decades.

3) There is a big difference in the way subjects are taught, particularly science and math programs. Students need to learn alternative ways of problem solving, a demand in high school curricula.

4) There are more teachers with greater depth and breadth of expertise in subjects, which expands a student’s intellect and interest in specific areas.

5) Organizational and life skills are stressed at the middle school level. Students tend to be “babied” in elementary school, which hinders their ability to handle situations on their own in higher grade levels.

However, school counselors believe that this critical time in a child’s development is the very reason why extra nurturing is a good idea.

So what do we do, Mom and Dad, if this is the way things are going to be? While there are many viewpoints, the most common piece of advice is to remain involved in your child’s middle school experience even if volunteer opportunities don’t exist like they did in grade school.  You may be called a Helicopter Parent, but you won’t regret sticking close for this particular year. Another tip is to make sure sixth graders are separated from seventh and eighth graders to help control exposure to too much, too soon.  Luckily, our new middle school isolates sixth grade students for the majority of the day to give boys and girls undivided attention from faculty and administrators.

Finally, start talking and don’t stop until you’re blue in the face.  Make sure your child knows that he or she can ask you any question, share any fear, and discuss any situation that doesn’t make sense.  If the door to the school is locked, make sure the one in your home is wide open.



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4 Responses to “The birds and the bees in my bonnet”

  1. DEANNA LewisNo Gravatar says:

    I feel your pain. I have a grandson that will be experiencing the same problems. I am concerned that he will leave people and students that have known him all his years in school and love him. My granddaughter will be going into a High School that begins in the seventh grade. I want Middle School to be 5th thru 8th. This is still in place in Pleasants County, and my daughters were able to have this experience. Carry on Katy, you are heard.

  2. Katy BrownNo Gravatar says:

    And I may be borrowing trouble. I tend to do that. But, you know your child, and you know what they can and can’t handle. 7th grade wasn’t hard, but it was awkward. The real “trouble” started in 8th, when you were involved enough to be the target of mean girls. Sixth grade may be the best year.

  3. David TaylorNo Gravatar says:

    I was educated in Kanawha County Schools my entire childhood. This was awhile back (lol) and at the time, it was grades 1-6 in Grade School, 7-9 in Junior High and 10-12 in Senior High School. Maybe it’s because I was raised with it, that has always felt ‘right’ to me. I would not put 6th graders with 8 graders. That’s a world of difference. Bullying is much more talked about and acted on now then it was then but I still think it’s better to be safe than sorry. Even as a 7th grader I wasn’t ready for 9th graders. I had a rough row to hoe that year and it really impacted my personality and made me who I am today. I think the 6/3/3/ split is the best. I’m in NC now and they do K-5, 6-8 and 9 through 12. History repeated itself with my nephews. 6th grade was really bad for them and it really should have been the last year of ‘innocence’. That being said, kids today are all so ‘worldy’ and wired, I don’t know how parents today can keep their kids reined in. I admire the successes.

    • Katy BrownNo Gravatar says:

      That’s my problem right now. The world still gets in our house even though family time starts as soon as the bell rings for dismissal. Between phones, iPads, social networking, email, and FaceTime – the influences never stop. Well, they’re about to. I’m taking our oldest off the grid for everything but homework. She sees her friends from 8:00 until 3:00. That’s plenty of “face time” for a 10-year-old.

      Thanks for writing, David. I’m glad to hear from you. -K

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