Friday, December 2, 2011

Why I'm glad I skipped 6th grade

Extreme Makeover Home Edition has a profound ability to clear my sinuses. I don't watch it very often but it seems that every time I watch it, I tear up, if not outright cry. Today was no exception. The family getting the new house this week suffered something I can't even begin to imagine. Two years ago, the sixth grade son killed himself as a result of terrible bullying at school. The rest of the family - mom, big sister, younger brother, younger sister, and aunt - have been unable to move on because of this horrific memory which is so deeply associated with their house.

Sixth grade is rough. Things are changing that you don't understand. Old friends may be making new ones and leaving you in the dust. Someone may decide that you're "not cool" and convince the rest of the class to avoid or bully you. That can make all the difference in the world between being happy and miserable at school. Middle school is brutal even without additional problems.

As the title of this post suggests, I never was a sixth grader. I was homeschooled through fifth grade and then begged and begged my parents to let me go to a tiny charter school as a seventh grader the next year. Despite this, I've seen the ugly side of 6th grade. Last year, when I was teaching in Hungary, one of my classes was the 6a class at the bilingual primary school. I saw them twice a week for music and English class. While there was a little bullying in the 5a class and the 7th graders were getting into teenage angst, the 6th graders were well known as the worst class in our program and for good reason. They were wild and uncontrollable, loud and disrespectful, crass and bullying. There was one favorite target; I'll call him Aaron. Aaron is the son of one of the other English teachers and was not adjusting well to living in Hungary. In a lot of ways, he made an easy target for them. The only one in the room who didn't speak Hungarian and so could only participate in half of the classes, he was also quiet, reserved, and unmotivated.

Aaron frustrated me. He was so unmotivated. I could be standing right next to him translating the Hungarian part of the lesson using simple language (fast, slow, etc) and he would blankly stare at me while saying "I just don't know anything about music." Well... with an attitude like that, it's unlikely that you ever will. Despite my frustration, I had immense empathy for him as the odd one out in the class because that was me ten years ago. I was the one American girl in an all Hungarian school. He had it easy compared to that. My classmates weren't nearly fluent in English. I could barely communicate with them. And, yes, I was bullied. While my class was a seventh grade class, there were many of the same problems. Name calling, reading a book during the break only to have the boys slam it shut, it wasn't fun. In fact, that semester was one of the darkest of my life. Although the year before when I was at a "Catholic" high school back in the States was worse at school, the combination of bullying with hating where I was put me the closest that I've ever been do doing something drastic. I don't know why my parents ignored the morbid notes that I left on their bed multiple times, but it's a good thing that I never did anything more than pray I wouldn't wake up the next morning. I know what it's like to be Aaron. The difference was when I accepted that I was stuck in Hungary whether or not I liked it and that I might as well make the best of it. Despite my happy ending (I fell in love with Hungary and have been back twice since that disastrous beginning), it could have been much different and I sincerely hope that things turn around for Aaron too.

Watching Extreme Makeover today, what hit home the most for me was the fact that my baby brother is in sixth grade. When the big sister was asked what she missed most about her brother, she remembered his jokes. Every time I am home, he's got at least a new joke or two. And when one of my sisters hears one, I get texts/facebook messages sharing the newest. John's not in school so bullying there isn't a concern right now (This is NOT a push for homeschooling! If I ever had kids they would not be homeschooled unless that was the absolutely only option) but bullying can take place anywhere. There are enough dangers and diseases harming kids, this is one that is completely preventable. And must end.

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