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Emma starts middle school

EMMA STARTS MIDDLE SCHOOL:  If you’ve read “Crashing Through the Windshield,” you’ve met my fifth-grade character, Emma. In the sequel that I am writing, Emma begins middle school. Even though the sequel is fiction, the characters and their experiences need to be germane to the timeframe in which they live. While there is certainly literary license, situations that reflect contemporary society need to be plausible.

I haven’t stepped in a middle school for twenty-three years, so I knew I had to do research. Once contacted, the principal of our local middle school was excited to help. That is one of the things that I have learned on my writing journey—people are willing to help educate and support authors. They are generous with their time, and I am grateful.

I took a tour of the school, saw students in action, and had my questions answered. What an enlightening and fascinating experience! They have an innovation lab with 3D printers, laser printers and cutters, and the computers used to create computer-aided design (CAD) to send to the printers. They designed stickers for their water bottles and designed floorplan layouts. They can participate in a robotics program. I saw a lot of collaborative work going on among groups of students. I’ll admit that some of what the students were trying to explain to me was beyond my bandwidth. I would have to start from the very beginning and build on that kind of technical knowledge.

I asked about popular art-class projects. The principal told me that students like to design their own shoes. “Design their own shoes? So, do they bring shoes and color them or accessorize them?” I probed. With that I was taken to a display case to see the shoes made out of paper.  I was feeling older by the minute.

I asked about:

  • Favorite lunches: taco in a bag and pizza crunches
  • Classroom pets: A few teachers have lizards.
  • Physical Education: Two of the units are archery and swimming. My toes curled remembering the gang showers we were required to take in high school (and we didn’t even have a swimming pool), so I asked about showers. Turns out that showers are optional to accommodate for a student’s modesty. Thank goodness that there is now some empathy for adolescent body awareness and anxiety.
  • Dances: Remember those? Boys on one side, girls on the other awkwardly trying to figure out how to cross the great divide? Problem solved—there is a dance, but there is also a dunk tank, cake carnival, open gym, and swimming. Sounds like a fun time!
  • Common pitfalls: Same old, same old—forgetting locker combinations and navigating the layout of a large school.

Times sure have changed not only from when I was in sixth grade but from when my own kids were in middle school. Things were simpler for us Boomers, and we worry about all that our grandchildren have to contend with. I know that there are issues that are worrisome, and not everything is rosy, but I want to say, “have hope.” On my tour, I kept thinking, “There is hope. There is opportunity. These kids are adapting in ways we may not have realized,” and I was uplifted.

I can’t wait to see what my character, Emma, thinks about her new school!

3 Comments on “Emma starts middle school

  1. This is why your first book was so good. Detailed research. I can’t believe how much middle school has changed!

  2. Hello Kathryn, I am a blast from your past! We went to St. Stanislaus Grade School together. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your book . I am definitely looking forward to your sequel. When I finished reading “Crashing” it left me wondering what happened to all of the characters. I have another book idea for you – Growing up in Slavic Village.

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