My son’s 8th grade class has largely been together in the same school, since Kindergarten. They’re about 100 strong, navigating themselves around technology, friendships, fashion, adolescence, sports, school and a world that only brings more uncertainty with each passing day. They were babies when terrorists threatened the United States on our soil on September 11th. They were first graders when one of their teachers resigned to battle depression. They were fifth graders when a beautiful little classmate died along with her sister and their father in a fiery crash just before Christmas. My son learned the news on the basketball court. We got the phone call just before we walked out the door to attend his tournament and chose to not tell him until after this game. I remember watching as the news passed from boy to boy during warm ups. To honor their classmate, in a ritual of solidarity against death, the kids wrote the girl’s initials in Sharpie on their tennis shoes. I remember watching my son explain that to a referee during a basketball game. No little kid should have to deal with death so closely, but this class has done that.
Since then I’ve noticed that they’re pegged as the class that causes a lot of trouble at school. They’re unruly and loud and I’m sure I don’t know all of the antics that go on or else I’d probably be more sympathetic to the teachers. But they stick together. And yes, some of that sticking happens during detention.
But I was thinking about this. I don’t think I’ve ever heard my son speak badly about a classmate. I can’t remember one time. He’s worked and played with many of them over the years through all kinds of activities and teams and groups assignments. If one of them did something boneheaded, the discussion was about the act and not about the person. Even when he felt unfairly left off of the student council earlier this year, the kids who got on were not his target. He spoke instead about the fairness of the process.
Yesterday at the spelling bee, you could tell from the 8th grade crowd when an 8th grader advanced, even if you didn’t know the child from the 5th, 6th and 7th graders. The class is silly, but united. And I think they’ve learned to let things roll off. Here’s an example. At the spelling bee, all of the 8th graders went out in the 4th or 5th round. As an observer, and a writer, I was struck by how uncommon some of the words were. Ultimately The Boy went out on a word I knew and I’m sure I made a bad face when he got the second letter wrong. But in the round before, he had correctly spelled a word I’d never heard of. It was interesting to see the younger kids do so well. The little girl who took third had to keep adjusting the microphone down because she was so much shorter than the rest of the kids. At the end of the afternoon I thought, huh, those 8th graders were kind of lazy and really were shown up by the rest of the kids. Maybe they just don’t care about spelling bees.
This morning at breakfast I got the real story, in a matter of fact, no-big-deal way. The Boy had learned from his classmate that the younger students received more or all of the words in advance. The 8th graders received one page, filled with only potential 6th round words. Interesting. Unfair. Move on. That’s the attitude.
I know my son is anxious to go to a new school in just one semester, ready for a fresh start and new teachers to try. At the same time, I know there will be some sadness as this band of kids breaks up and attends perhaps four or five different high schools. As a parent who has gotten too many e-mails from teachers and the principal this year, I’m still proud of who he is, who they are. They are a resilient group of young people, and they’ve learned to stick together.