Search form

What I Learned (the Second Time) in Seventh Grade

Spending a year with a seventh grade team at Bennet Middle School brought back memories, instilled new lessons, and evoked admiration. And it was a chance to share lessons from a school dedicated to doing whatever it takes. Included: Reflections on a return to seventh grade.

Let's just say it has been "a while" since I was in seventh grade. "A while" as in I was stuffing papers into my first locker pre-American Idol, pre-microwave, pre-cordless phone, pre-VCR, pre- just about everything that is part of today's seventh graders' everyday life.

Virtual Tour of Bennet Middle School

Click to take a virtual tour of Bennet Middle School.

I went to a junior-senior high school, and when we started seventh grade, we were given homeroom numbers, schedules, and locker combinations and dropped into the hallways in an early-adolescent version of Survivor. The hope was that we would emerge intact at the end of six years.

So I wanted to see what goes on these days in seventh grade. That's why I was so eager to spend a year with the Royal 7 seventh grade team at Bennet Middle School in Manchester, Connecticut. To get to know a contemporary middle school and learn how today's teachers cope with the pressures on them and their students. And to share their strategies with other educators.

Much has changed in middle level education since I was in seventh grade -- the conversion of many junior highs to middle schools that are not just mini-high schools, but places designed to meet the academic and social needs of 11- to 14-year-olds being the biggest change. Teachers are more attuned to their students' emotional well-being and learning styles. It's a far cry from my seventh grade math class, where the teacher would yell "Moron!" just before he pitched an eraser at your head if you gave the wrong answer.

The changes in the approach to middle school education are good, I think, and even more effective when executed by teachers and staff members who you can tell really care about their students.

When I first met Jenna Brohinsky, the team leader for the Royal 7 team at Bennet Middle School, one of the first things she said to me was that she became a middle school teacher because her middle school experience was so awful, and she wanted to make middle school better for kids. You probably could fill Yankee Stadium with people who would like to erase middle school from their memories, but not many who are willing to go back and improve it.

I learned a lot during my year with the Royal 7 team, and I don't just mean the recollection of math equations I hadn't seen in decades. I was always amazed by the desire of Bennet staff members to go not just an extra mile, but a marathon to help children learn.

As for me, among my lessons are:

  • That teachers will spend several periods debating how to re-arrange classes, just to get the right mix of student personalities and abilities in each.
  • Coping with death is part of middle school life.
  • That teachers will stay after school, sometimes until 4:30 or 5 p.m., because they know the kid who's hanging around the hallways after the last bell has no place to go until then.
  • That many educators see their mission as tending to the whole child and his or her family, and will provide food, clothing, gifts, and even heat when necessary.
  • That insight can come from the most unlikely of places.
  • That young lives can be turned around over the course of ten months.
  • That restless, inattentive students who would exhaust most people after just one 45- minute session keep coming every day -- and you find a way to help them.

This is a building of people that will continue to do "whatever it takes."

Education World Goes Back to School

Education World news editor Ellen R. Delisio is spending several days a month this school year with the Royal 7's, a seventh grade team at Bennet Middle School, a grade 6 to 8 school in Manchester, Connecticut. She is observing and participating in students' learning, and talking with staff about their strategies and perspectives on improving student performance. She is a graduate of W. Tresper Clarke Junior-Senior High School in Westbury, N.Y.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2005 Education World