Imagine three straight years of pimples, family squabbles and
unexpected mood changes.
Aahh…the ever-changing life of a middle school student.
The road from childhood to adolescence can often be a bumpy one,
with unexpected turns and pitfalls around every corner. Tweens must
not only deal with physical and emotional changes in the privacy of
their own home, but then attend school with countless number of
classmates all going through the exact same thing.
"The tunnel through the junior high years on their way to high
school can be sometimes dark and lonely for some of these kids,"
says Ed Weston, Principal of
St. George School in Tinley Park. "These kids are dealing with
all sorts of expectations from their families, teachers and peers.
It can be tough to juggle everything all at the same time."
And while this time is often difficult for students and their
families, junior high teachers and administrators are faced on with
a classroom full of students who are quite literally changing
"The middle school years can be such a tough time for kids,"
explains Megan Cawley, sixth through eighth grade Humanities
teacher at Baker
Demonstration School in Wilmette. "It's really a power struggle
between what is going on with them both physically and
"I see a huge difference in my students between the sixth grade
and the seventh grade," adds Dr. Roberta Zasadzinski, seventh and
eighth grade math and science teacher at Kingswood
Academy. "It seems like that is usually the time when the kids
get more insecure and just not as enthusiastic as maybe they once
were. They are also so self conscious due to all of the physical
changes they are going through."
Many educators believe this span of time can often be harder for
the girls than for the boys.
"I think it's so important for middle school to have a strong
control over the girls and the cliques that form," says Dr.
Zasadzinski, who has worked at Kingswood Academy for the past nine
years. "If it's not controlled, it quickly turns into bullying.
Boys certainly have their issues, but they tend to be resolved
quickly without anyone holding a grudge."
And while it may be inevitable to completely eliminate the
problems that arise between different groups of kids in the school
environment, enabling students with the tools to resolve problems
themselves whenever possible is crucial. Many schools provide
advisors to help students through the constant changes going on in
"While you are helping them build esteem, you also need to allow
them to experience failures which they can learn from, "says
Principal Shane Staszcuk at Mt.
During a time when tweens are desperately looking for their own
identity, many school administrators have seen great success by
offering a variety of responsibilities to students throughout the
day. For schools such as Kingswood Academy, having the junior high
housed in the same building as the primary school offers a number
of opportunities for older students to take a leadership role.
"I always tell our kids they are the leaders of our school,"
remarks Dr. Zasadzinski, who also serves as an academic dean at the
school. "They really shine when they are working with older people
and younger kids. They seem to especially like the fact that the
smaller kids are watching them, and want to grow up to be just like
Students at Kingswood Academy also take a leadership role during
their daily morning broadcast, organizing a penny war for charity,
and assisting the little kids during the school's annual Christmas
pageant. "It's important to give kids of this age a real sense of
accomplishment," adds Zasadzinski. "Give them responsibilities, and
chances are that most of them will rise to the occasion."
Other schools have had success sending their junior high
students out into the community to help others who are less
fortunate. Mount Carmel Academy students often go out into the
community to work with the elderly, the sick, the hungry and
homeless. "This is a time where these kids might have the notion
they are the center of the universe," explains Staszcuk. "Getting
them out in the community can bring them down to reality a little
bit. As a Catholic school, we can weave a religious aspect into
this crazy time."
No matter what, parents and teachers must work together to
ensure students get through the middle school years without a
"I always say that we need the parents, students and teachers
all working together," says Weston, who has been at St. George for
the past sixteen years. "It's the perfect triangle where we need
everyone in order to get the clearest picture. Parents are the
first educators and we are their partners. We need to work together
as a team"
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