- Middle School
by Beth Coyne, Assistant Head of School
The Middle School backpack is a phenomenon that has us all aching for a massage every time we see our students walking down the hall. My son actually pulled a muscle in his back years ago when wielding one of his heavy packs. So that students do not have to put the bag on his or her back, some families have opted to purchase backpacks with wheels. Although this can be a short-term help, it is not a long-term strategy. Have you ever seen a high school or college student with a wheeled backpack? Our teachers are mindful of their students’ heavy load. In fact, more manageable in size than last year’s, our Middle School students now have a new history textbook (selected for its content, not its size). Relying on a textbook in some Middle School classes provides our students with critical skills they will need in the coming academic years.
At the end of last year, I interviewed some of our students about the size and weight of their bags. Several students shared with me that they take home all of their books each night, leaving virtually nothing in the locker. When I asked why, a few shared that is what their parents told them to do so they would not be missing anything they might need for homework. Sadly, these children were actually filling their bags with worries, worries that they would not have some needed item. This is a legitimate worry; I know that feeling when your child realizes that something needed is not in the bag.
I began to think ahead to this year. A goal I have for all Middle School students is to determine at the end of each school day exactly what he or she needs for homework that night and pack only those items. It may be the case that students finish their math homework, for instance, in a study hall. Why then bring that work home when it can be left in school for the next day? Doing this end-of-day inventory requires time and organization that starts in the classroom when teachers provide the students with their assignments and time to write them down in their planner. This is an issue of time as well as worry. It seems that we are always in a rush these days, but I would like to see our students using the take-a-breath moment at their locker to focus, review the planner, and remember what was shared in class. Do they have everything they need? Can they check with a nearby peer for clarification? Do they need to return to a classroom to double check an assignment? An inconvenience for sure, but well worth it in the end as this extra step will teach students to take the time to write down what they need to in class, when the teacher assigns it.
We also teach our students to take just what they need to class each day. Student visit their locker at 8 a.m. and collect only what is needed for the first two periods of school. At snack they grab what is needed for the next three periods, and after lunch they prepare for the last three periods of the day. We expect students to use these breaks to help them with their daily organization. Repetition and reinforcement provided by advisors, teachers, and peers will make this organization automatic.
If your child gets home and realizes that he or she does not have an item please ask “What is the worst that can happen?” or “What can you do or whom can you call to get what you need?”
Students can call each other for help, and with technology most kids can take a picture of a page and send it along to a friend in need. We have done that in our house with math problems. Classmates are typically very happy to help each other. Another option, though perhaps not convenient, is to arrive at school by 7:30 a.m. the following day to complete (or start) the assignment. Truly, what is the worst that can happen? The assignment may be late and having to explain that to a teacher is not such a bad experience in Middle School when learning these life lessons is part of the curriculum. Your child will live to do another assignment and possibly will not forget the book a second time.
Part of our job as educators is to prepare our Middle School students for the rest of their educational journey so we scaffold the use of tools in such a way that readies them in developmentally appropriate ways. The backpack is one of those organizational tools as are all the items that go inside. Let’s work together to help our students gain confidence in their abilities to manage their work and materials. As psychologist Robert Evans shares, “Prepare your child for the path, not the path for the child.” Part of this preparation is helping them to decide what goes in their pack as they head down their path.