We talk a lot about English and mathematics in middle school, state tests measuring these subjects and using the numbers to help define schools, after school programs developed to bolster writing and mathematical reasoning, and professional development days dedicated to helping promote strategies to engage students in English and math. None of that is bad; these are skills that our kids need as they prepare for high school and beyond, but I was reminded today of another aspect of school, another measure of a campus’ health: squid.
Well, not necessarily only squid, but the presence of spontaneity and whimsy, of creativity and application, the side of school that is art.
On a trip through a drawing class this morning, I got to see a studio full of young artists working on designs to be considered for our Diegueño Spirit Day t-shirts. Spirit Day is a big deal at our school, with all 950 students, as well as staff members, getting shirts celebrating our Diegueño Family. Most of the designs were Cougars, our mascot, who were wonderfully regal or exuberantly spirited. Growling, grinning, and gleeful. They were a great example of how a teacher, and a school, can provide a real life reward for a cool lesson in art. The t-shirt design contest struck me as perfect blend of school spirit and practical application.
Increasingly students are given opportunities to make meaningful connections between what happens in the classroom and what happens beyond the schoolhouse walls. At Diegueño, students learn to code, and share their games with others; our band learns tunes that they take to local parades; and our Dual Language Immersion students connect with students at a local elementary school who are becoming biliterate in the same way as our students.
But middle school is more than just preparation for the world of work; 7th and 8th grade are still a time when a sense of fun runs through much of what we do. I saw that as I was leafing through a stack of Diegueño Spirit Day designs and happened upon one that was …unconventional. Using the shorthand for Diegueño that shows up when we go to abbreviate our school name, DNO, this t-shirt design made up in pluck what it lacked in Cougar spirit. Nestled in the letters DNO, a squid.
Middle school is a time of things unexpected. Whether it’s an impromptu lesson on how to tie a bow tie, or a discussion of how to play guitar shared by a student and campus supervisor, a school’s ability to welcome the unexpected is another measure of health and vitality.
So as I was brought to a stop by that striking cephalopod, muttering “Holy squid!” almost under my breath, I got a healthy reminder of a sense of spirit and play that isn’t measured in an essay or a test.
For some students expressions like this take the form of a skit in Spanish class or a song in History. For others it’s a poem in English or creative answer to a problem in math; at Diegueño I see teachers in those subjects invite creativity alongside rigor. Others express that joy that is youth in lip sync performances, stop motion videos, or cardboard marble roller coasters.
Whatever the way students exhibit their artistic spirit, I’m proud to work at a school that embraces it. And while we might not change the mascot, not yet anyway, I know an image I’d like to have on a t-shirt. “Go DNO Squid!”