Wednesday, November 24, 2010


The Incredible Changing Middle Schooler

I LOVE middle schoolers!!!! The way they really are “in the middle” – not the bouncey kids of the third grade, and not yet the often eye rolling teens. They still have a younger child’s sense of wonder, even while they internally chide themselves for having it. At that age, they can be any size, too. The girls can be either so tiny that their legs are twig like, or fully developed and wearing eye shadow and lip gloss. And the boys seem to range from those whose little arms hang out of their over sized tee shirts, to those who suffer from intense five o’clock shadow. Everything about them is in transition, sometimes with more rises and dips than a roller coaster ride. How do any of us survive that period of our lives???
I have just started a five visit residency with some of these rapidly evolving young people, and what makes them all the more extraordinary is that they are all recent immigrants to this country. Which means – on top of changing bodies, hormones, and sense of self - they also have to learn a different country’s language, culture, and stories. A big job, especially at the time of one’s life when things like pimples, and growth spurts come without warning. But, these kids seem totally up for the challenge.
On my first visit, I spoke of my grandmother to them before telling my folktales. I told of how she was an immigrant to this country, about how she missed her homeland, and how her stories of her upbringing in a foreign place held my siblings and I in a thrall. After I told them a story that I thought “Nanny” – as we called my grandmother might like, I asked if they had a tale from a grandparent, or other relative they could share. I had barely gotten the query out of my mouth when the tiniest of the young men in the room raised his hand – an Asian Harry Potter, with round glasses, and a studious look, Victor proceeded to tell me, in slow, broken, accented English a tale his Chinese mother had told him. Besides him was Katherine – a twelve year old with more sophistication in her pinky than I possess in my entire body. As Victor recounted his tale, I glanced around room, expecting to see the snickers I so often do in a classroom when one student is having a hard time speaking; but instead I saw looks of encouragement, understanding, and, from Katherine, a fierce protectiveness, and an interest in his story. Victor’s courage fueled other students to cast aside their shyness and self confidence, and allowed them to bring to their new country and classroom, a bit of the old one. It opened the door for a cross cultural sharing of stories, and each of these students, whose every fiber is changing millisecond by millisecond, was able to find footing in the one thing that has been around since the beginning of time – stories.

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