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Middle schoolers reflect on 6-8, look ahead to 9-12

Gearing up for more work, new friends in high school

Three years ago, new middle schooler William Compton lamented that “In fifth grade, we were the kings of the school. When we got here, we were measly peasants.”

William is in eighth grade now, back to being a king of sorts. “When I’m walking down the hallway and someone else is walking at me, like, in the same lane, I don’t move,” he said, with a hint of swagger that indicated he might be embellishing just a bit.

“But seriously, I wonder if (sixth-graders) look at us the way we looked at eighth-graders when we got here,” mused Jadan Sanders.

Lowell’s class of 2022 is winding down its middle school years and getting ready to hit the high school hallways. To that end, School News Network reunited the group of district students we first met with as new sixth-graders for an article about adjusting to middle school.

Read the original article: ‘From kings of the school to measly peasants’

They all know the time is drawing near when they will once again be the smallest fish in another big pond. And the group recognizes that they will repeat the peasant-to-king cycle in college, at new jobs, and as parents and beyond.

We thought it was time for them to check in so they could reflect on their experience in middle school, and give voice to their hopes and their concerns for the final four years of K-12 education.

Fears Faced

Not far into their first year at Lowell Middle School, our group acknowledged they had fears going in. But even when worst fears are realized, they said, all are survivable.

Yes, going from one class all day in elementary school to six — and six teachers instead of just one —  can be overwhelming. But even then Chloe Sandborn recognized that “You’ve got to be way more mature and find classes yourself.”

Next year, with two floors and multiple hallways at the high school, our panel acknowledged they will be in unfamiliar territory once more. But having been through it before, they said that will serve them well in the years to come.

That attitude comes from the mentorship of staffers who recognize the middle school years are pivotal to every stage that follows.

“Each year of middle school prepares our students for the next level,” counselor Katie Erickson said. “Our teachers at each grade level are experts in meeting the needs of that particular age group, and then getting kids ready for what comes next.”

For eighth-graders, what comes next is bound to be more of what they are seeing this year: “much more freedom, more privileges,” Jadan said.

Added Kelsey Stephens: “They don’t baby us anymore. They treat us like adults.”

And that, of course, comes at a cost. “There’s a lot more trust, but a lot more responsibility,” Kelsey said. “Like for algebra, you have a section a day to get through and you can’t get behind. And it’s not fun at all being behind in that class.”

Without exception the group of eighth-graders say there’s zero shame in asking for help when you need it.

“You’re not too cool to go to your teacher for help,” Kelsey said.

Their bottom-line advice to incoming sixth-graders: be kids for a while longer, but understand that the shift to adulthood has begun.

“Just enjoy it,” said Evan Klein, but “know the balance between too much fun and just enough,” added Chloe.

Lowell Middle School advice givers from two years ago are, from left to right, front row: Greta Forward, Jadan Sanders, Taylor Holdridge; middle row: William Compton, Chloe Sandborn; third row: Emily Struckmeyer, Kelsey Stephens, Evan Klein; back: Jaydon Gates

High School Jitters

Even as they give that advice to those who will enter middle school in the fall, our group admits they grapple with the next transition.

Chloe said her sister, who is in high school, “seems like she is always doing homework.”

Kelsey expects there will be a palpable shift from having the freedom to goof around to ramping up the serious-o-meter when it comes to her studies.

“Classes are going to be so much more difficult,” she said. “It’s going to be like, you have to get it done.” And as someone who participates in more than one sport and cares about her grades, Kelsey said she’s especially concerned about juggling sports, homework, sleep and social activities.

Greta Forward expects it will be about finding “the balance between not enough studying and too much.”

They would do well to listen to their own advice to trust that their teachers and counselors have seen that concern before, said high school counselor Tory Parsons.

High school is where students start to feel external pressures: taking classes with friends vs. what interests you, figuring out your studying style, deciding whether to take an advanced placement class or three.

Just like in middle school, “It’s about relationships with teachers and counselors,” Parsons said. “I would tell them, ‘You’re going to have lots of people you can go to for support.’

“There’s no right way to do high school,” Parsons added. “I don’t want them to feel the pressure when it’s not necessary. The bottom line is balance. And sometimes it’s learning to say no.”

She concedes that can be difficult when students are adamant about the Almighty A. “We struggle with how to convince them that they are better off in the long run when it is not about the A,” she said.

How can that be?

Counselor Nicole Deckrow said students are being exposed more to careers than ever before, so she encourages them to “set their sights on what you want your life to look like when you are 30, and work from there, instead of what college you want to get into. We want them to change the lens to learning for the sake of learning, not for the A. They get themselves so stressed about that, and I’d be stressed too.”

Deckrow continued: “It’s not the point to decide what you want to do, but to decide what kind of person you want to be. High school is a great time to figure out who you are as a person.”

Gotta Have Friends

This is a big one.

Evan Klein came to the middle school from Alto Elementary. And there were a lot of kids at the middle school who weren’t from his school, he recalled.

Chloe came from outside the district, so every face was an unfamiliar one.

Greta Forward was worried she would lose all her old friends once she got to middle school.

Emily Struckmeyer was afraid she would find herself in the cafeteria, eating alone, with nobody she knew having the same lunch period.

Know what? It all worked out.

“I stayed in the same group, but we made new friends too, and fused,” Evan said.

“I was nervous that they would find new friends and just leave me,” Greta admitted. “But they didn’t. It was OK.”

Even more important, said Kelsey, “A lot of the friends I have now, I never would have thought of them being my friends when I got to middle school.”

Their advice to new middle schoolers: “If you see someone new, you should go up to them,” said Taylor Holdridge.” “It’s just as nerve-wracking to them as it is to you.”

One of the biggest things, Kelsey said, “is just to be friends with everybody. If you’re rude to people you have never talked to before, they are going to get the impression that you are not a nice person.

“You never know, they could be someone you go to in hard times.”

That’s just the advice Parsons gives to freshmen.

“Kids are always concerned about fitting in,” she said. “I tell them, ‘Be open to making new friends; don’t wait for people to ask you. And take the time to get involved.’ For a lot of kids, it doesn’t feel like your school if you’re not involved in something.”


Goodbye owl vomit and yurts, hello advanced math — hooray!

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio


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