Friday, May 24, 2013

Surviving sixth grade

From today's Briefing:

Somehow we have almost survived sixth grade.
I use “we” because there were multiple moments that I felt tested in the process of my son getting through his first year of middle school.
I use “almost” because there are still two weeks to go, and if I’ve learned anything through the sixth-grade experience, it’s that anything can happen. I’m not counting end-of-school-year chickens before they hatch.
I could fill a book with the lessons and lectures that have bubbled up around here over the past year. Truly, Cooper is an excellent child with solid character, but no child or parent is immune to the unpredictable whims of adolescence.
The chapters of this book would include “You Can’t Study for the Test If You’ve Left Your Binder at School” and “When the Teacher Says No Talking, She Means You, Too” and “Running Shoes Left Unlocked Will Never Be Seen Again.”
Even better would be the companion book, based on what I’ve learned from Cooper. A few of the best lessons:
Try new things.
Cooper has jumped into new adventures with gusto. He rides the bus to and from school without complaint. He’s learned to avoid trouble by sitting toward the front. (“There’s a lot of inappropriate language at the back,” he says, lowering his voice so his little sister won’t hear.)
This time last year, he knew nothing about woodwind instruments. Now he can piece together a clarinet in seconds and then play actual, recognizable tunes.
He attends a citywide youth group, sometimes showing up by himself, never worried about not fitting in or having no one to talk to.
Scale back. 
This time last year, Cooper evaluated his existing activities and considered what he could handle on top of the increased academic difficulty of middle school. Based on all that, he made the tough decision to drop a beloved extracurricular activity.
He had been part of a Destination Imagination team since first grade. He enjoyed the whole experience — weekly practices, creative problem-solving, competing in front of judges. But he wasn’t sure how he could maintain that schedule on top of everything else.
He made the difficult yet mature decision to leave the team in order to make room for all his new experiences.
Stand up for yourself. 
For months now, Cooper has ignored and/or tolerated a friend who likes to brag a little too often. Alongside the boasting comes occasional barbs and insults.
Cooper doesn’t take his friend’s behavior too seriously or personally — another lesson I could learn from him. But after months of grandstanding, Cooper could take no more. He called his buddy out on his behavior and then moved to a different lunch table — a big gesture in the middle school world.
During most of fifth grade, there was one boy — let’s call him Ike — who was kind of a bully to Cooper. Called him names, tripped him on purpose multiple times.
I’m not a big fan of Ike.
All the music students at Cooper’s school have the opportunity to go to Six Flags as a group at the end of the semester. The sixth-graders sign up in groups of six, and they’ll spend the whole day with one another — plus a brave, selfless adult chaperone.
When Cooper arrived home the afternoon of group sign-up day, I asked if he was pleased with the boys in his group.
Yes, he told me, rattling off four names. Then he paused.
“You might not like this, Momma,” he said, “but Ike is in my group, too.”
“Because he’s nice now, and we like to ride the same rides, and you have to forgive people.”
Oh, my favorite sixth- grader, you are wise. I think we’re going to make it.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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