Advice from an 8th Grader about How to Succeed in Middle School

A few weeks ago I found myself looking at a public middle school for my daughter. I had never been in the school and knew very little about it. I only knew the former principal and a few kids who had gone there. I hadn’t even looked up any test scores until I sat there waiting for the evening to begin. When I did look up the test scores, they were unimpressive at best: only 44 percent of the students were proficient in math and reading despite the principal’s stance that equity was a priority. The school is quite diverse: 34 percent Latino, 27 percent African American and 25 percent Caucasian. It is an arts and technology magnet school in the district. The auditorium was full of prospective students and their families. There was an extraordinary jazz band to open up the evening but no mention of the Common Core or academics by the end of the open house. The principal chose to have the students give the pitch—good choice given the test scores and lack of focus on academics, I thought. The students were amazing—articulate, funny and heartfelt. One 8th grader, in particular, gave the best advice I have heard in years to the incoming 6th graders. He said [my paraphrasing]:

First, you have to be curious. There are lots of things to explore in middle school. Second, you need to listen to your teachers. You’re going to have a lot of them, and they give a lot more work than elementary school so you better pay attention. Third, you need to be flexible. Everything isn’t going to be perfect. Fourth, you need to be open to being friends with kids who you might not expect. You never know who your best friend might be.

Not bad for a school with unimpressive test scores. Are test scores everything? They certainly are doing something right with some of the kids. I wonder which kids?