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Centered in the Middle

From a Zoom Q and A on recess with Dr. Tarle last week: “When we’re sitting in the circles on the blue top, do we, like, have to sit, like, in the middle of them?” “Yes….yes you do. That’s the whole point of the circles. They’re part of the plan to keep our community safe”. 

It’s been 250 days since middle schoolers have graced the hallways at the Brandeis School of San Francisco. 6000 hours since projectors have been turned on in Science classes and 360,000 minutes since expo markers have squeaked against white boards in Language Arts. You could fit 8000 lunch periods in the time from the last Middle School elective in March, to the first game of 5th grade two touch on the blue top this year. For many of our students (and faculty) it’s their longest break from a physical school building…..ever. 

Planning for this “first day” of middle school has been unlike any other. Never has the transition to and from recess been so meticulously discussed in faculty and kehillah meetings. The lunch seating arrangements and protocols could keep a Broadway stage manager busy. Despite my best efforts at color coding, after months of prep, these tabs and tabs of google spreadsheets started to look like a blank paint by numbers outline missing the ink to bring it alive. I found myself wondering more and more in the days leading up to Monday not just how students would get from A to B each day while maintaining social distance, but what they would be feeling as they did so. Would they be nervous? Excited? What would they notice first? So at the end of the first day I sent a few questions to 5th and 6th graders to check in on their experience. I figured their first hand account would be much more interesting than anything I could say about the day. 
As is the case with all middle schoolers, their answers are delightfully to the point, and pull no punches. Below are a few responses to the question “What was something that surprised you about being back on campus?” with my reaction to reading them in parenthesis: 

“I was actually surprised about how well everything went.” (Clearly confidence was high). 
“I was surprised by how it was so different, but still felt similar.” (WooHoo! That was the goal!) “How much screaming there would be” (We are still working on that in-person mute button). 
“The new boys bathroom” (While I had bathroom remodels as a conversation starter for a different age bracket, I’ll take it) 

What surprised me (but shouldn’t have) was that the responses to the next question had almost no variance. When asked “What was the best part of being back on campus today?” the only difference in responses came in the form of capitalization choices and punctuation. 

“Seeing my friends!!!!!!” and “I GOT TO SEE MY FRIENDS” and “Talking to my FRIENDS!” 

Try reading those outloud. No actually do it. All three of them. I’m serious. Read them with the tone you guess the 5th and 6th graders who penned them intended. I just did it at our dining table for our three month old and it’s impossible not to smile while doing it. The middle school, albeit staggered, cohorted, and hybrid, is back together in community. And it’s impossible not to smile about it. For all of the shifting sands that adolescence brings, for brief moments this week, students found themselves centered in community and friendship, in middle school.