Three Cheers for Kennedy Middle School

Yesterday morning was the fateful day I had been invited to share my experiences of living in Liberia with my son’s 7th grade class. Having been a middle school student in Liberia by no means made me an expert, but it certainly gave me hands on cultural experience that Nicky’s class could learn from – or so I’d been convinced by an eager Nicky.

My cold left me with a horse voice and some trepidation about keeping a roomful of 7th graders entertained for 40 minutes. Armed with fresh tropical fruit, fried plantains, and a Liberian handshake lesson to kick off the class, I arrived a few minutes early to set up. My main goal – don’t embarrass Nicky, and if I’m lucky, maybe the class will learn something interesting about West Africa as seen through the eyes of someone their own age.

Mrs. Downing, the teacher who hosted the class, invited me to stay for her homeroom attendance call and morning announcements. The bell rang, everyone sat in their seats. Much to my surprise a formal attendance roll call wasn’t the focus. Two girls in the class shared Facebook chats they had been having over the weekend with a sick class mate who was in the hospital. They talked for a few minutes about what more they could do to make the ill student feel connected to the class. Mrs. Downing gracefully guided the discussion but let the kids share their feelings and thoughts.

Then in the back of the room a boy raised his hand. Remember, these are 7th graders. He asked Mrs. Downing if she had seen the news about the riots in Cairo. She acknowledged the news, and set the students up for a discussion they would have later in the day about this very timely topic. Then everyone rose at once, faced the flag and said the pledge of allegiance – with seeming honor, or at least no eyes were rolling.

All of this transpired in 10 minutes. What a wonderful way to start the day. In my head the kids should have been passing notes back and forth, and spitballs would be fired as the teacher formally called out the students name. This was so much better. Something wonderful was in fact happening at the Kennedy.

My hopes of simply not embarrassing Nicky were raised to an optimistic desire to engage the class in a dialog.

I had heard about similar experiences at the Kennedy. Nicky comes home every day with a new fact, a silly joke or other story he read in the Newspaper. Long ago I stopped asking who shared that with him – it was always Mr. Murphy, his Spanish teacher.

And let’s not forget Nicky’s math teacher, who’s last name I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t spell! This teacher has Nicky as eager to hop on Study Island and take on his teacher’s latest challenge, as he is to play any of his video games.

Mr. Murphy, Mrs. Downing and this math professor – teach more than Social Studies, Spanish and arithmetic. They, along with a fantastic staff at the Kennedy teach students to love learning, to be inquisitive and to relish story telling.

My talk with the 7th graders went well, but I suspect I learned a whole lot more than they did. I learned a new respect for this public middle school – a respect I knew lingered but hadn’t fully surfaced. A respect earned not by the slightly run down building that houses these students, or the well used text books the students lug home every night. A respect earned by the quality of the staff – in the classroom, and throughout the school.

I look forward to the weather getting warmer for many reasons, but today, it’s so I can proudly wear the Kennedy Middle School shirt the class gave me.

Way to go Kennedy – you are what public schools are all about.