Guest Author - Tara O'Gorman, MSW
As we reach the end of the school year, I am reflecting on the past two years in middle school and the journey ahead. We are two-thirds of the way through middle school, and high school now seems just around the corner. There have been many changes in the last couple of years. There will be many more in the immediate and near future. My mind is swirling on the reflections, the rewards, and the reservations occupying the same space.
Our family has always viewed education as a journey and, as such, have experimented and tweaked our way through years of academics and social development. My son has either thrived in or barely survived Montessori school, European-style academy, charter school, public school, home school, internet school, and a home-based/public education combination school. There have been ups, downs, twists, deep failures, and grand successes.
The past two years have been a grand success. The home-based/public school combination program he attended for sixth and seventh grade was an experience I happily reflect upon, thrilled with the academic and social development I have seen in him. He thrived in a situation where he attended school two days a week and worked from home the other three. He made friends, worked well with peers, rose to some challenges that would previously have caused painful failure, and walks out of that school after two years a completely different young man than the child who walked into it two years ago. We see the rewards of his work, our patience, and the assistance of amazing, supportive teachers.
I would have registered him for eighth grade, without hesitation. But this same little boy that walked into sixth grade is a very different teenager walking out. He made a request, after much research and deep thought. He asked to attend his local public middle school, full time, for his eighth grade year.
Bombshell. Not what I expected. Fear, terror, a little excitement, lots and lots of reservations. But acceptance as well. And resignation to the knowledge that this guy is no longer a child but a young man who is ready to have a say in his educational plans. Having Asperger's has rarely held him back when wants to achieve a goal. Why should it now?
Reservations. Stress is so much lower when school is only two days a week. Five days will be a huge change. The school is bigger. The teachers will be demanding. The work outside of school will take up a lot of time. The kids will not know him. Will they judge him harshly? Will he make friends? Will his social skills deficits be an obstacle, or will he do what he always does and find a small group of kids who appreciate him in spite of, and because of, his quirks?
'Middle school' always seemed like borderline cuss words to me. My own experiences keep coming to my mind, and they are not always positive memories. It seemed those years were more about survival than anything else. But my journey and his journey have never been the same. Our experiences have never been the same. These reservations are based on some sad and frustrating past experiences in his younger days, mixed with my personal bias from my own middle school struggles.
The reality is, my only reservation should be about the unknown, which has always made me uncomfortable. The reality is, reflecting on the rewards of the last couple of years should overshadow the reservations I have about the future and the changes to come. If I can keep that reality in my mind, we are all ready for what is yet to come.