MS Head's Blog
In the Middle of It All
Middle School Musings by Trevor O’Driscoll, Bancroft's Head of Middle School
Most weeks, MS Head Trevor O’Driscoll writes a short note to parents and faculty about middle school, education, parenting, and other topics relevant to our community. We share these Middle School Musings here for the benefit and enjoyment of all who are interested. Read recent entries, browse the archives, and delight in Mr. O’Driscoll’s take on our Middle School and the amazing people who inhabit it.
Spanish teacher Jody Stephenson reflects on lessons she learned from her 6th and 7th grade students during their community service afternoon at an eldercare residence:
My students inspire me to take risks every day. Each time I witness them share an insightful idea, lend a hand to someone who is struggling, come out of their comfort zone to speak or perform at assembly, or sit with a new classmate at lunch, I am amazed by their courage, creativity, curiosity, and compassion. My recent community service outing to Summit eldercare reaffirmed this.
Although I have participated in Bancroft Community Service afternoons on more than thirty occasions, I, unlike many of the students in my group, had never before volunteered at an eldercare facility, and I was unsure of what to expect from the experience and what we would be asked to do. The activities coordinator greeted us enthusiastically and led us to a room with the Alzheimer's patients we'd be visiting and working with. She explained that we would first play some games with them to strengthen their motor skills and then help them work on artistic and creative projects.
Out of my own comfort zone, I was admittedly hesitant to initiate conversation with the residents. But my small group of Bancroft sixth and seventh graders dove right in, introducing themselves warmly and leading their particular part of the game confidently. One student, who had been there last year, walked straight over to a patient, saying that he remembered meeting and playing with her last year. Another encouraged a shy woman to play a round of ring toss with her, cheering her on, while another sat right down with a woman and immediately engaged in conversation about family. Following their lead, I began to circulate amongst the crowd, emboldened by my students' ease and comfort in this unfamiliar territory.
During the next two hours, I observed examples that demonstrated qualities inherent to our Bancroft Middle School community:
- I saw compassion and inclusivity as students coaxed some of the quieter patients into conversations.
- I saw creativity and resourcefulness as a student quickly thought of different ways to approach a situation that was becoming challenging.
- I saw playfulness and humor as students laughed while enjoying the good-natured teasing of one of the patients.
Above all, though, each interaction was filled with kindness and compassion, from a Bancroft student sitting attentively and patiently with an elderly woman who became emotional as she sifted through old photos, to another student who several times reassured an anxious patient that she was getting picked up and going home at the end of the day.
Though I was moved by witnessing all these qualities, I was not surprised. I have come to expect nothing less from these exceptional students, and I am always learning from them. These students led me, by their own examples, to take risks and connect with a population that had so much love, wisdom, and humor to share.
For this and for the students I am grateful.
The unspeakably tragic events in Las Vegas have yet again reminded us not only how imperfect our world is, but also how precious our families are. As we grieve for others and try to make sense of that which is senseless, we should unabashedly take comfort in how fortunate we are to enjoy our friends, our family, and our children.
During Tuesday morning’s Middle School assembly, I spoke to students and teachers briefly about the incident in Las Vegas. I relayed my own sense of hope at knowing about the countless acts of bravery, help, and humanity that hundreds, if not thousands, of strangers performed for those around them. Humans, time and again, overwhelmingly demonstrate that within us we have the power to transcend the self on behalf of those around us, and in that we can see both beauty and a pure kind of love.
Bringing it closer to the lives of our kids, I reminded middle schoolers of the various circles of support that exist on campus for each and every child at Bancroft. I told students that on this small patch of earth alone there are literally hundreds of people who care about them, their health, their happiness, and their success. Should any student, for any reason, need to tap into these intricate webs of support, we are here for them.
As we see yet another example of violence shatter so many lives and families, I am saddened to once again think about how we as parents can have meaningful, supportive, and developmentally appropriate conversations with our children at home. I wish there wasn’t the need for these “how to talk to your children about X” moments in our lives. Nevertheless, we parents need to be prepared to handle the questions that arise for adolescents who, by nature, have an increasingly acute sense of the larger world around them. Below I have shared some resources that may help you frame conversations that we all wish we did not have to have.
How to talk to kids about the Las Vegas shooting:
When prospective families ask me why they should choose Bancroft, my mind races as I think about all the good work I see at school on a daily basis. But I quickly remember that at the heart of it all, what makes this place special is the relationships that form among students, teachers, and staff. And what is particularly inspiring is seeing how our students set examples for all of us when it comes to forging these bonds. Two moments, one from last week that in turn brought back memories of a scene from a couple of years ago, show how our middle schoolers make this place special.
Last week, when a student banged her knee on a local field trip and needed to head back to school to be checked out by the nurse, the first person to eagerly volunteer to ride back to Bancroft with her was a brand new student. I was impressed by the newbie’s caring instinct, and I felt all warm and fuzzy thinking about where this budding friendship might go. When I called school to check in on the hurt knee, I got a report that melted my heart. The new student was in the health center with the owner of the hurt knee, reading stories aloud to her (with impressive gusto and emotion) as she waited for a parent to come. Despite the fact that the new student just met this classmate only a day before, here she was, comforting and caring for her hurt classmate like an old friend.
This moment brought me back to a few years ago to another favorite story that involved a new student who lost his backpack in the early days of school. What could have been the ultimate stressor for a middle schooler who was new to Bancroft, remarkably, with the help of caring classmates, turned into a moment that launched new friendships — ones that I see thriving in those now-upper-schoolers today. Never has a lost backpack been such a blessing and an indicator of the health of a community.
Here at Bancroft the people — the kids and the teachers I wrote about last week — work together to establish, build, maintain, and reinforce the culture that undergirds all the good work we do here. Don’t get me wrong — middle school can be a time in life that is full of challenges and discomfort, and no institution is perfect. But it’s also true that every day I have the chance to see small moments like these that continually remind me why Bancroft is special.Have a small moment from your child’s Bancroft experience to share with me? Please send me a note and tell your story.
During the last week and a half here in the Middle School we had several opportunities to rally around major events that brought our community together. The eighth grade play, our community service afternoon, and a student-organized Turkey Trot all served to put a spotlight on the power that comes from a group of people, all with incredibly varied identities, uniting around common beliefs, principles, work, and events that are larger than any one person.
- On Wednesday and Thursday, November 8 and 9, our eighth graders staged four performances of “Born to be Wild,” a fantastic play that artfully and humorously revealed the inner lives of animals while more subtly exploring themes of identity, friendship, family, self-awareness, and self-actualization. It’s hard to say what was the most enjoyable part for me -- seeing the masks, costumes, and sets the students made; watching kids recite lines on the stage and then frantically jump down into the pit band to play the accompanying score; witnessing the behind-the-scenes support the Upper School tech crew provided -- there were so many highlights. But in the end the best part was the shared laughter that brought all of us, including every Bancroft student as well as parents, teachers, family, and friends, together.
- On Wednesday, November 16, more than 150 Middle School students, faculty, and volunteer parents ventured off campus to serve our greater community. We accomplished much and some of those feats (miles of trails cleared, pound of goods and food organized and distributed, number of books read to kids) are definitively quantifiable. But what is unquantifiable, and arguably more important for the development of our children, were the human connections made, the moments where empathy transcended differences between people, and the wonderful feelings spurred by the release of dopamine as we laughed and enjoyed ourselves while doing good work.
- On Thursday, November 17, around 50 Middle and Upper School students and faculty participated in a Turkey Trot, a run around our cross country course that generated lots of donations for the Worcester County Food Bank. Not only was the fun run a great opportunity for the student leader and her team to learn how to organize and run an event like this, one with lots of moving parts and inevitable last-minute speed bumps, but it brought many of us together. Again. As a parent noted to me in an email, “[we] appreciate the fact that Bancroft values and encourages this type of learning experience for the students, and that the community turns out in support.” I couldn’t agree more.
These moments that brought us shoulder to shoulder are profoundly important here at Bancroft. Celebrating individuality and emerging personal identities while highlighting and emphasizing what brings us together has always been a crucial part of the important work we do with kids.
Finally, below is a sampling of thoughts faculty shared after an exhilarating day serving our community. The energy, spirit, and fearlessness the students demonstrated in giving what they can of themselves for something bigger than themselves is an inspiration to me and all the adults who have the privilege of working with your children every day:
- A young student at Belmont Street School told Sullivan he was drawing a picture of him
- Siblings Anne and Jack working together to saw a log
- The AMAZING kids laughing and chatting with the elderly and making them so happy!
- Feeding sheep
- Seeing the supervisor of Wachusett Greenways beam about the work of Bancroft students
- The passion and joy in the eyes of the parents who witnessed chorus sing at Seven Hills
- The ladies at St. Anne’s were so willing to do whatever they could. Mary completely re-organized a shelf of holiday items and Abby befriended a baby and her mom.
- Celine getting an extremely short-term memory limited Alzheimer's patient to color for the first time (it's been a long time since this woman was able to do this)
- "Ms. Sigismondi, can we go sit and talk to that old man?"
- Sophie, after packing boxes of food up for Thanksgiving meals said, "I LOVE packing boxes! Can I come back here next time?"
Enjoy what you are thankful for this no-homework Thanksgiving break.
This post comes to you from MS Spanish teacher Jody Stephenson.
Entering the Boone Room last Friday night, I was instantly transported to an oceanic wonderland. From the crepe paper seaweed on the walls, to the construction paper fish painstakingly drawn by hand and the fanciful touch added by the sixth graders — life-size mer-people cutouts! The following snapshots are only a few of the moments that I witnessed Friday night that speak to why I love working here.
I saw generosity, as each student who arrived early asked “Señora, what do you need me to do?”
I witnessed kindness and compassion when a seventh grader reassured a sixth grader that she needn’t be nervous at her first dance, and when another seventh grader reached out to a younger student in need, coaxing her onto the dance floor and making her smile.
I noticed leadership and risk-taking, from a sixth grader decorating an event for the first time, to a seventh grader exploring a new interest as our official photographer, to an eighth grader warmly welcoming each arriving student.
I saw acceptance and inclusion as a multi-grade card game spontaneously commenced on the lobby floor, and students who may not have known each other well laughed and strengthened connections.
I saw milestones occurring before my eyes from a sixth grader’s first slow dance, to a seventh grader’s newfound confidence, to an eighth grader’s mature reflection and awareness that this dance was a moment to remember, the first in a series of endings in these weeks leading up to graduation.
By 9:45 we had erased all traces of the dance, save for a stray strand of seaweed on the floor. But even after removing the music and decorations, the twinkling lights and the food, something so special still remains — a remarkable group of students who challenge each other to take risks, who accept each other with all of their beautiful imperfections, and who take care of each other without even being asked.
On the drive home, tired, but with my heart full, I thought to myself how incredibly privileged I am to be able to witness this every day as a part of this exceptional community.
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