A little while ago I saw something remarkable. Amazing, really. Something I never would have seen during my own days in middle school. Something I wouldn’t have thought possible. An auditorium full of middle schoolers sat in hushed silence as a young girl walked tentatively to the microphone to perform an impromptu song. “I can’t see all of you out there,” she said, squinting into the bright lights, “so I’m just going to have to assume you’re not laughing at me.” Then she belted it out, loud and clear, and when she was done, the entire room erupted in applause. Many kids lept to their feet and cheered.
It was a moving moment. It still is, even now. I’ve never seen anything like it at a public middle school. I’m told, though, that it’s an ordinary occurrence on the middle school field trip to Wild Horse Ranch. This spring, for the first time, I spent two days with the entire middle school enjoying the Wild Horse property and watching the middle school in action. Everywhere I went – and I do mean everywhere – I saw kids seeking out their teachers. “Mr. Houck, play soccer with me”, “Mrs. Church, go on the zip line with me”. Reed Woodward trying all morning to dunk Mr. Lutes (it never worked). On and on, over and over, every teacher was busy caring for those kids. It reminded me, actually, of the last time I went to Wild Horse as a Young Life staffer. Adults building into the lives of kids and having a profound impact on who those kids are becoming.
And what effect – what academic effect – does all this relationship building have? I’d like to relate a part of an email I received recently from a parent:
“My daughter has been very apprehensive about her leap to middle school next year… scared really. After attending the 8th grade promotion last week and seeing the great slideshow, she absolutely cannot wait to start middle school.”
This is a powerful email, because it communicates an essential truth. This incoming 6th grader isn’t worried about the school part of middle school, she’s worried about the relationship part. When she saw first hand what the middle school was all about, she was ready to roll. Especially in middle school, relationships aren’t an important part of the game, they’re almost the entire game. Where teachers care about the whole kid and where kids are learning to be kind and supportive of one another, remarkable things can happen. That’s what’s happening everyday at Corbett Middle School. In a word, spectacular.