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.
Just two days ago, after school got out at 2:45 for the weekend, I had the honor of heading to the lobby of McDonough and sitting in tech teacher Kevin Briggs’s low slung blue beach chair, a typical Friday afternoon fixture in the fall. Fridays after school are when our robotics team and Mr. Briggs voluntarily gather to build, tinker, program, fail, refine, fail, rebuild, reprogram, tinker, reprogram, and sometimes succeed before moving on to the next problem.
Watching the kids as I filled in for Kevin, I saw that students were serious about the robots, some of them working through programming issues that stymied them for weeks. But they were also having lots of fun with each other. There was laughing and socializing. A dance move was busted. This atmosphere naturally led to a spirit of communal experience, and in turn that spirit engendered examples of empathy and care. On three separate occasions I saw three different eighth graders help sixth graders solve problems, not because they were asked but because they noticed the need. By 5:00 the area was totally cleaned up and the last student headed home.
It’s probably a good idea to be crystal clear about my role filling in for Mr. Briggs on Friday. My role was to sit in the low slung blue beach chair. That’s what I agreed to do, and, amazingly, that’s all I had to do.
I sat while the students were completely self directed, from setup (including unfolding said chair for me), to collective problem solving, to cleanup. To be sure, Mr. Briggs deserves all the credit for coaching these students and having the skills necessary to work with this technology. More importantly, he’s also responsible for creating the climate I sat amongst, one that’s a mix of chilled out curiosity and a dogged determination to make crazy ideas work. Like all of our Middle School educators, Kevin brings an original style and expertise to a community of teachers who love working with Bancroft middle schoolers, helping them become self-sustained learners. Of course the kids deserve credit for their work ethic, attitude, and commitment on yet another Friday after school. And me? I was asked to sit in a chair.
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.
The following blog post comes from guest author Maggie G., a member of the Class of 2021, who shared it with the Bancroft community at the closing of the 2017 Middle School Awards Ceremony.
Before I begin I would like to thank you all for coming to our 2017 Middle School Awards ceremony. I would also like to thank a few of the groups who have contributed to today’s celebration: the administration, the faculty, and of course, the families, without all of whom absolutely none of this would have been possible, so thank you.
As many of you know we usually have closing words from Mr. O’Driscoll at our Middle School assemblies. It is one of the little things that we can always count on here. Similarly, our teachers know they can count on our hard work throughout the year, and today, we’re excited to celebrate some of the outcomes of this work.
I don’t know about you, but as this year is coming to a close, I’ve been expecting to feel an automatic shift into my 9th grade self. I’m not sure why, but I expected almost an overnight transition with new responsibilities slowly revealing themselves to us. I expected a shift in “power” along with a sudden increase in maturity. The 6th graders would suddenly be 7th graders; the 7th graders would magically become 8th graders, and we, the 8th graders, would official be high schoolers. As I stand here before you today, however, I can tell you I don’t yet feel like a 9th grader. But as we look back at our September selves, we can all see a difference from then until now.
Each of us has been recognized in some way for the progress and hard work we have demonstrated this year, whether that be on the stage, on the field, on the court, or in the classroom. We have been pushed to achieve things that most of us probably thought that we could never do. Then it is suddenly gone, poof! into thin air, without a trace until we have days like this that remind us. This day is just one of the stepping stones in a series. At the end of all of these steps it will be 4 years later when the eighth grade class will have finished high school and awarded a diploma for four more years of hard work and progress.
As this time passes, the Class of 2021 will be different in many ways; however there are currently 41 8th graders who sit before you today. 41 kids whose names are recorded on a roster. Whose names to a stranger might be flipped over and regarded as insignificant. But to me, and I hope to the rest of the class and the entire Middle School community, these names recall memories from the year. The “A” names start, and everything comes rushing back in, like the little quirks that'll be remembered by all.
I don’t pretend to be under the illusion that all of us get along 100% of the time, or that we’ll definitely be friends forever and ever until we are all old and grey, or the universe ends (whichever comes first). But I don’t believe that we will forget so easily either. As Mr. Urban will tell you, “The Sands of Time” was the only title deemed unacceptable for our essays and research papers this year. It was too vanilla, too unoriginal. However, these ‘sands of time’ do, in fact, serve a purpose: they will continue to etch into our brain, slowly solidifying the memories we take with us. They will chip away at the less fond memories of stress and tests and papers. Instead, the way we have formed relationships with our teachers and friendships with each other, those memories will stay with us.
We’ll remember. Remember the way that Ms. Sigismondi would have a smile full of energy that could excite even the most gloomy teenager on the earliest Monday morning. Or the way that our conversations with Mr. Kamosky would somehow always circle back to the questions of nuclear war, the illusion of time, if space is infinite, or whether or not we are alone on our tiny planet. Or the way that Mr. Phillips would end class by cracking a cheesy joke that would either result in dead silence or send us into a belly laugh. Or the way that our World Geography discussions with Mr. Urban would somehow, one way or another, evolve into political debates.
These memories will stay with us, no matter where we are going next year, or in the years to come. Some, like myself will continue at Bancroft. Though others in our grade will branch off to other high schools, we will remember, all of us.
In the spirit of remembering, let’s not forget the other two thirds of the middle school: the sixth and seventh graders. Although today’s awards were primarily awarded to eighth graders, we cannot disregard the progress and hard work that they have all shown throughout the year. For example, the seventh grade has unwaveringly worked on the Science Fair and almost all of the students sent to regionals placed. Additionally, these students will be competing at the State level competition this Saturday. The sixth graders tirelessly worked on the Blackstone Valley project, while simultaneously learning about the state in which we live.
As we celebrate the impressive accomplishments that we have made this school year, we will continue to look and move toward the future, but we will not forget the past or how experiences we have had here shaped us. After grasping for the words to conclude my speech, I continued to think and realized that my words might not have done this year justice, which is when I stumbled upon this quote that finally built my bridge to the end: “Be smart enough to hold on and brave enough to let go.”
Thank you all and congratulations for another dynamic school year.
A guest post by Dominic Dipersia
Dominic serves as Bancroft’s substitute coordinator, student activities communications liaison, and MS soccer coach. He was also one of the chaperones on the 7th Grade AMC Retreat in New Hampshire's White Mountains, Aug. 31-Sept 1, 2016. Here, he shares his insider's view of the true value of this annual seventh grade rite of passage.
As the seventh grade students tilted their heads all the way back to look up at the peaks of their respective mountain trails, their eyes grew wider with both excitement and trepidation. Most of the students on the AMC Retreat had never hiked anything before, let alone a 4,000-foot mountain. With their backpacks as big as their bodies strapped on tight, they pushed forward and began their uphill climb, a challenge that tested them both physically and mentally.
On a hike filled with stunning views, sharp corners, fallen trees, rocky paths, and even some rain, the groups of students and teachers worked their way up to their community huts in which we stayed for two nights. Sleeping on triple-deck bunk beds with not much more than a sheet, a light sleeping bag, a blanket and a pillow was in keeping with the “roughing it” nature of the experience; no memory foam mattresses here.
In many ways the experience, organized by a dedicated team of teachers, served as a microcosm for this school year. Teachers want their students to challenge themselves, both in and out of the classroom. The idea that they can climb a mountain on their second day of school should give them the confidence to get through any obstacle that comes their way inside, and outside of the classroom this year and beyond.
“It’s amazing how small you can feel compared to the whole world.”
As our group of ambitious climbers ascended to the top of Cannon Mountain on our second day, the tallest peak we climbed during the retreat (4,100 ft.), their confidence grew with each step they took. For most of the students on this trip, this test seemed impossible at first. Yet when it was all said and done, the students had accomplished a three-day hike up and down the mountain, a goal accomplished through individual grit and the support of peers. They took the challenge head-on and masterfully became a stronger group of students because of it.
Much like the challenging trails and exhausting inclines they endured, there will be tough times in the school year where students may think they couldn’t possibly rise to the occasion. With some help from their teachers and classmates along the way, they will see that reaching the peak of their seventh grade experience isn’t as daunting as it may appear.
Last Friday night, while the sixth graders and parent volunteers were playing games at their alternative gym night event, and about 25 parents were squirming in their seats as they learned strategies about how to have “The Talk” with their adolescent kids, the seventh and eighth graders were up in the Boone Room for their winter dance.
Close your eyes and imagine a middle school dance. What do your senses register? Do you see a cavernous gym with a tiny disco ball hanging limply from the ceiling? Do you feel the sticky humidity in the air? Is your hearing being assaulted by the thumping drum and bass lines of the pop song of the week, spun by a cheesy middle-aged DJ with a bit too much enthusiasm? Don’t even tell us what it smells like.
Now imagine last Friday’s Bancroft Middle School Dance. You can take most of that sensory overload and throw it out the window. This Middle School dance had the unique markings of a Bancroft event.
There were the students who excitedly showed up early to decorate the room in a winter motif. The tunes were spun by eighth grader Violet, whose DJ setup (courtesy of her audio-genius dad) and skills put your average wedding DJ to shame. And while there was the typical dancing, non-dancing, and goofing around, there were other scenes one wouldn’t see at many other MS dances — like the group of students who clustered around Dima to watch him put some finishing touches on his robot for the next day’s competition (his team was a top 15 finisher, by the way), or the kids who curled up with books for a respite from the excitement.
Sure – the songs were loud, the air was hot and thick by the end of the night, and there was a certain hard-to-miss fug in the air. But how many dances do you remember ending like this one, pictured below, with an army of Middle Schoolers cleaning up the event that they planned, decorated, DJ’d, and executed by themselves?*
Another reason to love Bancroft and the kids who make us special.
*HUGE thanks to student council advisors Jody Stephenson and Angela Sigismondi who played more than a small role herding the cats. Also thanks to the eighth grade team for chaperoning the dance, all the sixth grade parents who helped make gym night a success, Pam Sheldon who organized the parent sex-ed workshop, and Kevin Briggs and Lance Stewart who spent Saturday with our robotics teams.
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