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.
The other day at a Middle School assembly I recognized two seventh grade athletes, a volleyball player and a cross country runner, for their accomplishments as Bulldogs. The volleyball player was a huge factor in the team’s win, scoring five points in a row in the deciding match. In just her second season of the sport, her winning contributions were especially remarkable given that she spent much of the previous year trying to get the ball over the net, a skill that proved persistently elusive for her.
The cross country runner finished first in her most recent meet. What made her victory so notable was that she competes at the varsity level. She’s a 12-year-old who is very humbly beating 18-year-olds. The genuine and enthusiastic cheers that each of these athletes received from the assembled division were indistinguishable in their raucousness, and these two athletes beamed.
On the first day of school I gathered with a robust group of Middle School parents and asked them questions such as:
- When did your son or daughter first learn to tie their shoes?
- When was your son or daughter first allowed to put on their own sunblock?
- Is your son or daughter allowed to be home alone and if so, when did they start?
The wide range of answers highlighted the fact that a calendar or an age often has nothing to do with when kids will be ready to take on the next challenge or responsibility. This is true whether we are talking about applying sunscreen or tackling abstract mathematical concepts. So, while one athlete demonstrated remarkable progress toward mastering a fundamental skill, another athlete chased challenges beyond her age group. Yet both demonstrated clear personal growth and success.
At Bancroft we strive to meet kids where they are, and have fun acknowledging and celebrating their impressive range of personal achievements.
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:
This week I present to you a classic math problem, one that many of our eighth graders were recently wrestling with in Mr. Phillips’s class.
There are nine justices on the Supreme Court. How many handshakes occur if each of them shakes hands with every other justice exactly once?
Spoiler alert: don’t read on if you aren’t ready for the answer.
Stumped? Below are correct answers from two different eighth graders, Julia D. and Talya J. Note the ways in which these two solutions exemplify how we encourage our middle schoolers to tap into their personal learning-style strengths and technology resources to employ different methods to reach the same correct answer:
Julia D's answer:
Talya J's answer:
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.
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