I have been volunteering for an afterschool support program at my son’s middle school. Designed to eliminate the thousands of missing assignments each year, the program places students in an afterschool working detention. They receive the missing assignments and must complete them that day (or continue to come to the program until all assignments are complete).

Before they are even assigned to the afterschool program, they receive three chances to turn the work in using a graduated warning system that includes notifying parents called infractions. So, it takes THREE infractions to get a referral to the afterschool program. Last week, we had 70+ middle school students stay after to complete missing assignments. This boggles my mind.

The whole reason I volunteered here is that at one point last term, my middle schooler had accumulated 17 missing assignments. Yep, 17. I worked with him to get caught up by first printing off a list of all missing assignment. He had to talk to each teacher about the missing work and find out how to get caught up. Then, I emailed each teacher and told him/her know that all the work would be completed but I did not expect my son to get any credit for the work; this wasn’t about the points, it was about turning in the work. Finally, we created a special folder that he was to take out every day in each class to help him stay organized and deliver completed work to the teacher.

So, when I heard about this upcoming afterschool program, it seemed like a good opportunity to give back. Plus, I was halfway thinking my son would be in there from time to time so might as well volunteer. But, I am happy to report he has yet to have a missing assignment this term!

I was prepared to help the other middle schoolers with their assignments as I often help my son with a learning disability at night. But there were many things that I wasn’t prepared for.

One is the sheer number of boys verses girls. Now, I should have known this intuitively. But I live in the world of boys and sometimes forget: boys clearly struggle with organization and self-discipline more than girls. On an average day, boys out number girls 4:1.

Another is the physical size of some of the kids in middle school. I mean they are like men including phantom mustaches. It’s kind of freaky. I come from the land of late bloomers.

But the biggest surprise of all is the complete disrespect these kids have for, well, anyone and anything—including themselves. It’s extremely discouraging and given the current discussions about public education, it’s important to take note of this.

I am not a good macro thinker. There are lots of problems in the world that are just too big and complex for me. I don’t even like thinking about them; they are overwhelming and include things like health care, crime, and poverty. And of course, add public education to the list. It’s a huge, multi-faceted and complex challenge intertwined with lots of those other issues listed above. There is no easy fix; there is no single solution.

But here is one thing I do know for sure. The toolbox is empty.

Schools are expected to do more…and more…and more with less. Less money, less autonomy to meet the needs of their unique student body, less investment in human capital and less concern for the people they are producing (and growing concern for the student’s performance on standardized tests).

The kind of disrespect I have seen by these kids—some as young as sixth grade—persists because it is allowed to persist at home and at school. We cannot control what goes on home. And, home plays a big part in shaping kids. But, look at what else schools cannot control about home and have been asked to do: breakfast, dental care, health care, and more. A few years ago I played tennis with a school nurse working in a public school system in Marion County. She had just been transferred to a high school and was lamenting that she had to learn how to do pelvic exams. Yes, students in the school would be coming to her for pelvic exams.

School provides lots of things that have nothing to do with reading, writing and math. Why not invest in making sure the kids who need it most all get the one thing that might be missing: positive attention from someone who believes in them.

After a particularly difficult afterschool session the other day, I saw a friend from one of my parents of special needs kiddos groups had a post that said, “kids who need attention must ask for it loudest.” I know those kids. They are longing for attention and they don’t know how to ask. There is hope for them, but not for much longer. And, the tricky thing about finding an adult who believes in them is that’s not always enough, right? Two people can tell you the same thing, but there is something about the way one of them says it to you that you listen, you believe. So, kids need to have lots of adults in their life who are positive and caring until they find that one that clicks for them.

I don’t know what the solution is but it has to have something to do with more money to hire more people. Not necessarily teachers. In fact the burden has become so great on teachers they rarely teach anymore. Just as a recently retired teacher and they will tell you how much education has changed in recent years.

The thing is…these kids, they need someone to call them on the clue phone—fast.

While there are many, many things about kids that I don’t blame parents for, blatant disrespect for adults, strangers and authority is one thing I do blame on parents. And, I blame our legislators who keep education spending flat and play political games instead of focus on really addressing some serious problems in our schools. I mean, you don’t need to be inside these schools long to see these real problems. Making rules and regulations from a comfy office is easy; implementing them with boots on the ground is incredibly difficult.

It makes me sad because, as I said to one kid the other day, you do not get what you want in life by being rude to people. You don’t. Life is hard and that kind of attitude only makes it harder—not easier, not better—just harder. I wish the school had more hands on deck to surround these kids with adults who believe. Especially these days because all the adults who believe are currently preoccupied with preparing students for the 12 hour-long state standardized test. The toolbox is empty. I wish passing test scores led to a full toolbox, but it just leads to more tests.


Update on the funk: 35 days until spring and 245 miles to go to meet my goal.

One Thought on “Middle School Woes

  1. Lezlie Ceglii on February 14, 2015 at 12:55 am said:

    This says, so eloquently, EXACTLY what is happening in public schools. Legislators, and our Governor, need to read this article. “Nail on the head.”

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