In the parlance of The Lovett School this was fifth-grade recognition. At Pace Academy it is a “bridging.” Featuring rising sixth-graders, similar ceremonies took place across Buckhead, Sandy Springs and Vinings last week as schools let out for the summer.
These students arrived at this point because they have done everything that has been asked of them and in some cases more. The trick in middle school is teachers and parents are going to stop telling them what to do. It will be up to them to decide what they want, how much time to spend on a particular assignment and what subjects are particularly interesting.
From the time children were 4 or 5, parents and teachers have gone to extraordinary lengths to teach them right from wrong, how to be a good person, be a good student, be a good friend. My wife Lori and I literally held our kids’ hands through elementary school. Parents and teachers have instilled in them the values we feel are important, nudging them when we feel it is necessary to encourage them to make good decisions. Now we get to see whether these efforts will pay dividends. We trust they will but ultimately it is up to them.
Middle school is the time to bump your nose, to sort your friendships and spend a few hours a week being a kid while being repeatedly reminded that things are about to get serious.
We will still be there in case they take a major spill, but just like letting a child ride a bike for the first time, we are beginning to let go, watching with trepidation and hoping they stay upright, knowing they will probably take a few falls.
Thornton — the “graduated” fifth-grader, not to be confused with this earnest columnist who is still a child well into his 30s — will be 12 this year. When I was his age, my parents placed me on an airplane and sent me to school in Connecticut, a thousand miles from my childhood home. It is hard to imagine a more challenging transition than putting all of your things in a footlocker and carrying them across five states to go to middle school.
In most cases these children will be moving from one building to another, from one campus to another, but will be surrounded by many familiar faces. In my case, the move to middle school was more jarring having to say goodbye to my friends and family. The lesson, however, remains the same.
Our children are taking more responsibility, asserting themselves as not-so-little human beings. This is the time to make mistakes, big and small, while we, their parents and loved ones are still looking through our fingers. Before we know it they will be out of sight.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and can be reached at email@example.com.