WORDS FOR CHRISTIAN HEARTS – SURVIVING AND THRIVING IN TOUGH MIDDLE SCHOOL YEARS

Sometimes when I tell people I work with middle school students, I get the uniquely Southern sympathetic response, “Bless your heart!” Given the incredible–often tumultuous–physical, psychological, and intellectual changes that accompany these years, I understand their feelings. Just consider the following contrasts:

  • Young adolescents may be fiercely independent, yet need and seek meaningful relationships with adults.
  • Young adolescents may reveal emotional vulnerability, yet be deeply self-protective.
  • Young adolescents may be capable of complex critical thinking, yet be disorganized and excessively forgetful.
  • Young adolescents may be compassionate in their desire to make the world a better place, yet display a high level of self-centeredness and even cruelty toward a classmate.

So, yes, these are challenging years…yet it’s working with this group that I’ve come to love. They are naturally curious and still largely unafraid to try new things. They still think we adults have something to offer, yet their “why” questions appropriately make us think through long-held assumptions to bring relevance to their learning. They really want to know how to approach relationships, and they watch us for relational cues…once again, a great opportunity accompanied by a great challenge.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I am not Dr. Mitchell, but rather Wade Brackins, PCA’s Middle School Assistant Principal. I’m honored to have been asked to pen (or instead type) a guest blog this month regarding my specialty, middle school students.  

Because these students are, quite literally, in the middle between childhood and adulthood, they can get lost or overlooked. We sometimes just hope they (and we!) survive until they grow out of it and hit the “important” high school years. If we follow that line of thinking, however, we run the risk of hindering future development. I wholeheartedly agree that “every day, millions of diverse, rapidly changing 10-to 15-year-olds make critical and complex life choices and form the attitudes, values, and dispositions that will direct their behavior as adults. They deserve an education that will enhance their healthy growth as lifelong learners, ethical and democratic citizens, and increasingly competent, self-sufficient individuals….” In other words, the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) is advocating that middle school students deserve the same attention to a developmentally appropriate, whole-person education as our elementary and high school students.

I believe that part of the PCA difference is our approach to educating the whole student. And perhaps a personal vignette illustrates my point best. During a leadership conference last summer, a presenter asked us to give a three-word answer to this question: what type of school would you want a visitor to your middle school campus to see? Almost immediately, “empathetic, exploratory, and enthusiastic” hit my mind. At PCA, we strive to connect to student lives with understanding. We strive to take advantage of their natural curiosity, encouraging them to ask deep questions about God’s expansive creation and, yes, make mistakes in the process. When we connect with them and they learn that mistakes are valuable to learning, they get really excited to learn even more. Will we, in cooperation with parents, have to correct their courses occasionally as they become more self-directed? Absolutely; but we continually work with the students and parents to grow them to biblically-based autonomy.

As described above, the AMLE defines an exemplary middle school education as developmentally appropriate, challenging, empowering, and equitable. As PCA’s middle school continues to grow, we are working to put each of those attributes into play. I feel privileged to help our faculty do so from a biblical worldview in every subject, prayerfully leading our students to vibrant relationships with Christ. By approaching each student as God’s image-bearer (Genesis 3) with unique capacities that contribute to God’s kingdom work (Ephesians 4), I believe we will be a springboard to launch countless Christian leaders into service-filled lives across our community, nation, and the world.

My speech and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a powerful demonstration by the Spirit so that your faith might not be based on men’s wisdom but on God’s power. 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 

Wade Brackins
Middle School Assistant Principal

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