Middle School Transformation

Everyone has a middle school horror story.  My memories involve the usual vanity issues — bad haircut, glasses, acne and braces – and mean girl goddesses with Farrah Faucett flips. My memories also involve some pretty scary scenes, too – overhearing whispered conversations in the locker room from girls dropping acid, getting pregnant, or getting ready to beat somebody up. Kids exploring the danger zone of life, and not always making it through unscathed. In middle school, for safety’s sake, I tried my best to be invisible. And maybe learn a little at the same time.

My son’s experience of middle school has been completely different from my own. The three years he has spent in High Tech Middle Media Arts have been years of emotional safety, discovered passions, deepening commitments, beautiful kindnesses, joyful explorations, and wonderful adventures in areas he had never even considered exploring.  As an introvert with a  “slow to warm up” personality, he wasn’t the type of kid to go barreling into anything new. That first year he went away to sixth grade camp for a week, engaged each week in Mrs. Terry’s conversation groups, explored computers, worked with groups on long-term projects, and was greeted each day by an incredibly enthusiastic humanities teacher, Mr. Wagner, who by sheer charisma engaged reluctant students in the learning process.

In seventh grade –historically reported to be the low-point in student interest and engagement in education – he discovered a LOVE of writing. Mr. Strong’s passion for poetry and novels, and his wonderful writing assignments turned him from being a boy who said he didn’t particularly like writing  to a boy who wanted to write all the time. That year, he discovered the only sport he has ever asked to do – Karate – during an X-block. He tried drama and found he liked acting. He developed skills in art from Ms. Isla and discovered he likes to paint. And he developed a political awareness and passion for ocean conservation during his intercession on  the ocean.

In eighth grade, his teachers Mr. Law and Ms. Valerie pushed him to do his best on his school work. While he’s always been a good student, he could always skate along without much effort. In this final year, his teachers have pushed him to take on greater challenges – not just do the minimum that is required, but discover the passion in a project by going one step further. He discovered a talent and strength in engineering, design and math. And he continued his tremendous interests in writing and art, taking classes outside of school to further his interests.

At HTMMA, because of the small class sizes and consciously close-knit community, he has been known and cared for by a variety of trusted adults, and befriended and respected by peers.  In small group advisories, he has met students from all different grades and backgrounds, and together, they have delved into sensitive social and emotional topics such as bullying and race, guided by a teacher who knows and cares for them. Mrs. Terry, leading a weekly conversation group, has provided another vital connection of trust.

Watching my son grow,  physically — nearly 7 inches in those 3 years! – intellectually and emotionally at HTMMA has been a truly beautiful experience. We considered sending him elsewhere to middle school, to a school with a system that was more familiar to us – lockers, changing classes, an hour with each teacher, higher test scores. But before we made up our minds, my wise husband said, “Promise me you’ll think about more than just the academics.” Keeping our whole, beautiful son in mind, we entrusted him to High Tech Middle Media Arts. If we had not, a very different boy would be graduating from middle school. A boy less passionate about the areas of learning he now loves, perhaps. A boy more concerned and anxious about behavior and grades. A boy who may have had to negotiate the same gauntlet of middle school social woes that I encountered.

We are so  grateful to everyone at HTMMA – Ms. Tianna who keeps everything running, Mr. Elizondo who has such a strong, healthy vision for the school, all the teachers who work so hard with our children every day, and all the parents and students who have made our community one of integrity and growth. Thank you for creating a healthy place for our children to transform into young men and women, and to learn what it means to play a passionate role in a changing world.

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