Today I went with the 7th graders from STEM on their outing to help serve the community. You may recall me writing about this last week. I promised to report on whether Cheyenne chose to mitigate or distance – she chose distance. I only saw her in passing all day as she wasn’t in my group; and, when I did see her, she did her level best to pretend I was invisible. Not that she didn’t “bless” my participation…she just didn’t want to be saddled with me. Thank goodness I have survived other teenagers or my wounded ego might have had to crawl under a rock for a good long time. I am holding on to the fact that eventually I will be acceptable to be seen with again.
So today the STEM 7th grade group spent five hours at the TNT Kid’s Fitness and Gymnastics Academy. Their job was to do some general cleaning and painting, and in addition they were allowed to take a play break in the facility and encouraged to interact with other visitors at the Academy.
This was my first opportunity to visit TNT. I must confess that I thought it was all about gymnastics – but I learned today that it is much more than that.
Ah, but I digress. The point is I learned an awful lot in five hours that I would like to share – little things, big things…good things, bad things…yes, I have things to share.
1. 7th graders come in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments. Of course I knew this, but to see the differences across a group of 60 or so kids is a dramatic reminder. Middle school is a time of fairly rapid growth and development and I realized today that 7th grade is probably where the disparity in the growth, interest and maturity spurts is most evident. Yet, the STEM kids all interact so fabulously together. I wonder if that is a function of the school’s size or whether it is just the nature of the kids themselves. As the latest bloomer of all time – socially, emotionally and physically – I find their apparent oblivion about difference so refreshing. They are all blissfully STEM kids and that supercedes all else.
2. I could never – NEVER – be a middle school teacher. I don’t have what it takes. I sometimes wonder if I have what it takes to live through a day with one teenager – but 60, no way. I am now of the mind that we need to pay middle school teachers much more money. They have a very challenging job. They take on the task of engaging and teaching kids as they descend into teenager-hood – I am telling you folks, it is nothing short of heroic.
Middle school is an important time in a kid’s life – you may recall that it isn’t always an easy time for kids. Teachers play such a significant roll in these kids’ lives and at this age have such a profound opportunity to influence them. Regular readers know that I adore the members of the STEM faculty and staff team - they are a very committed, hardworking group of people. But not until today did I realize the amount of energy they must be giving to these kids each and every day. I couldn’t be the type of amazing professional that they are. I know it sounds cliche, but it really does take a special person to be a teacher.
3. I saw this sign in the West Fargo School District bus we rode on.
I like this sign. I like the level of attention that bullying has started to receive. I like that bullying is becoming socially unacceptable in society. The phone number is that of West Fargo School District’s Transportation Department. After hearing numerous horror stories over the years about bullying on buses I am thinking this is a good thing. I am happy to have learned that West Fargo School District has opened an avenue for kids to seek help.
4. I know that trying to get kids to do chores at home is quite the feat, but you should have seen the STEM kids working their fannies off today. I was impressed with their ability to start, stick with, and finish a job without constant supervision. I took some photos of them busy cleaning and painting. I am hoping their parents can use these photos to remind them that they should use those skills at home as well.
5. As you can see in the photos, TNT is a big place with lots of equipment (check out their website for the myriad of things they do there). As I said, I really had no idea how expansive their mission was. While there I learned quite a bit about TNT – the most noteworthy of which is that they serve all kids, of all abilities. The message of inclusivity and honoring individual abilities was emphasized over and over again by the Academy’s Executive Director Kim Pladson. And the Academy practices what it preaches – in our time there today they had toddlers, preschoolers, and developmentally disabled groups visit the facility. Each group maximized fitness activities that met their own needs and had fun doing it. They have a good mission at TNT and are doing lots of outreach into the community. If you haven’t been there yet – go visit and learn more about the great things they are doing for, and with, kids.
6. Which brings me to the final thing on my list of things learned about myself, life and the world in five hours. Today while watching a group of about ten 7th grade STEM boys playing basketball with a couple of uniquely abled students from Discovery, I was genuinely touched. I know these are good kids, but to watch the way they interacted with the two boys from Discovery brought tears to my eyes. It was the stuff of a Hallmark movie. They were so genuinely welcoming, thoughtful, and warm-hearted toward these boys. I have to say, they behaved in the way we hope all folks would behave when faced with difference – with tolerance, acceptance, and openness.
So in five hours I learned that there is hope for the universe as evidenced by the character of the STEM kids, the deserved sainthood of the STEM faculty, and the good work being done at TNT.
I also learned that teenage life does not have to be as awkward as it has been for some – apparently the environment does have the power to transform the experience somewhat. I hope the world of K-12 education is appreciating that and looking at creating more schools like STEM where a small, helpful and caring community environment is created that fosters and facilitates the growth of good citizens.
As for what I learned about me – well, I learned that the world will have to go on without me ever teaching middle school. And I learned that next time maybe I will drive myself instead of taking the bus. As nice as the bus driver was and as authentic an experience as it was, I think I have grown out of my bus period.
Day one thousand and nineteen of the new forty – obla di obla da