Middle School (Warning: Rant)

I am currently working myself into a lather (yes, I mean it, picture a horse in a stall, rearing, mouth foaming, sweat-soaked haunches) about a meeting tonight discussing possible changes to our kids’ middle school. I do this all the time. I say, “Well, I sort of think this, but it’s not that big a deal.” And then I’m surprised by how differently other people are thinking, and then I start getting worked up. And then I start Googling. And then I get really worked up. And you know what? It never leads to much good. It always seems to be a lose-lose situation. Either I “win” and am shackled with the responsibility that comes with winning a raging debate, or I “lose,” and I am more bitter and angry than I ever thought possible, or I am ignored, and then I am just bitter, and I vow never to get all torqued up again.

And yet, I do. Again and again.

So when there was talk about closing our local middle school, the possibility of it actually happening seemed negligible because, I thought, the idea was so bad. All the parents I asked are happy with the school. They love the school. And a large chunk of our reasoning behind moving to our house was that our children can walk to all of their schools. We all love that. Walking to school is better for so many reasons (increased physical activity, better classroom readiness, lower stress levels, increased responsibility and safety awareness, savings on transportation costs both financial and environmental, & community building). And I know, I know: maybe some of you would like to walk and can’t. I was there, too. And then we moved houses specifically so that we could. And now that option might disappear. So I wrote an email saying these things and considered my job done.

Except that now that I’ve seen the changes that are under consideration, I’ve whipped myself into a frenzy again. I was spluttering at the dinner table last night about a particularly condescending “Con” someone had put onto the Pro/Con chart that the Powers That Be had created, and Cute W was trying to talk me off the ledge. Because he works with people who run meetings and receive massive amounts of abuse at these meetings, and he is sincerely convinced of people’s honesty and good intentions. He argued convincingly (he is an attorney, after all) that research delivered without the spluttering is always better than self-righteous indignation. Okay, point taken. But that sent me off to the computer and printer, where I’ve run out of paper and almost run out of toner printing 50 or 60 pages of my own modern jackass version of how to run a middle school. Which, in a nutshell, seems to be that you should scrap middle school altogether and go back to K-8. But that isn’t even on the table. And it also might just be the trendy thing, anyway, with valid arguments on both sides.

And of course studies tend to focus on schools in such dire need of help that it’s difficult to know how much any of these studies really relate to our hothouse flower, super-parent-involved school district. But assuming all other factors were equal,  almost every study and paper I found said that 1) transitions are difficult for students and almost always mean a decrease in academic performance along with other negative impacts, and, 2) smaller-scaled schools are better than larger-scaled schools. And of the three proposed new configurations, all would mean a larger-scale school, and 2 out of 3 would mean an additional transition for M and her classmates, with a change from 5th to 6th grade followed by another school change from 6th to 7th grade.

It’s all the more frustrating because it’s being presented as if we’re trying to determine what’s the most developmentally and academically appropriate option. If we have to close something down or reconfigure ourselves because we need to save the money, I’d rather just have them say it and then we could just admit that we’re not doing what’s best for the kids, we’re doing what’s least bad under current fiscal constraints. It feels disingenuous and patronizing. And one of the options includes a new capital construction project, after we just paid for a pile of construction for new classrooms that are now empty because we can’t pay the teachers needed to fill them. Crap, there I go again. I need Cute W to calm me down (sponge down my haunches?) before we actually go to this meeting.

Anyway, anybody want to explain to me that it’s all going to be okay and I should just calm the freak down? Or does anyone have any links to tremendously relevant research that I should read? Because, like it or not, that’s how I roll.

And, of course, after I get myself all stressed out on the local level, there’s a presidential debate tonight, too. If I don’t post later, assume that I’m either: 1) taking deep cleansing breaths into a paper bag or 2) playing a debate-inspired drinking game.


  1. Meghan

    I do have to say that as someone who went to a large school (Shen) I went to 6 different schools by the time I graduated! I was at Shen K-12. They redistricted twice while I was in Elementary so I went to K in one building and 1-5 in another. Then went to one of three middle schools. In 7th the 3rd middle school opened thus more redistricting. Then at the High School level 9 and 30% of 10th in one building and 70% of 10th and 11,12 in the larger building. Once the addition to the HS was completed the smaller building is just for freshman! I do have to say all of us did really well adjusting to the large and frequently changing college campus! We learned to keep in touch with friends regardless what building we scattered into. And yes change is hard, but at least they will be ready to take on the changes that frequently occur as we grow older!

  2. Wow. That sounds really, really frustrating and I agree that if they let go of the front that “we want what’s best for the kids” and acknowledge the truth that “we have to do it this way because of the recession” then it’d be easier to swallow. I am so not looking forward to all of the stresses that come along with kids going to school.

    Which middle school is it? (If you don’t want to publicly, would you mind emailing me?)

    We live 1/4 to 1/2 mile from my son’s future elementary and middle schools and he won’t be able to walk it – no sidewalks and the road is too dangerous. That’s something I get fired up about and he’s 10 months old!

  3. Pam

    The thing that keeps me sane about the whole middle school issue is this: It has been done before. In our district. VA used to be closed. Birchwood used to be closed. It’s not ideal, but what are the options? I think we are running out of options. But it will be fine. It was fine before and it will be fine again. Also, remember how much more resilient kids are. Think of all the issues that make us parents crazy — and then think, hmmmm…. my kid didn’t even bat an eye at that change.

  4. I empathize with you. Like you a big reason for our last move was to be close to the schools. Keep making noise and encourage others to also.

  5. @Meghan, I’ll try to take comfort there
    @Pam, it will be fine, of course, but my kids will seriously mourn giving up walking to take the bus. And I feel like this faux discussion process is torturous
    @Liz, thanks for the empathy, and if you start working on sidewalks you might get them in time for high school
    @Patti, I think I like them in their order, and hothouse is trite-but-true, yes?
    @G, thanks for the empathy, & I will if you will!

  6. Claire

    Situations like that would drive me crazy, too. I can feel my blood pressure rising just reading about this, as it did when I read about your experience with the two different teachers on field day last spring. My tolerance for that type of thing is so low. I suspect that if I encounter enough of those situations when my son is in elementary shcool, I might be very tempted to homeschool. Preschool has been such a great experience, but I know elementary school (even in a good district, which mine is, North Colonie) things are very different.

  7. @Lynn, If so, and you drank at “How much is this going to cost?” and “I love this neighborhood!” we’d have needed paramedics.

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