“There are a whole lot of ways that could have gone wrong.”
It was my assistant principal’s line as he watched the students walking away from us, laughing on their way to class. We’d been out in the quad at the bell, and as we were walking by the flagpole my AP had spotted a “cootie catcher” on the ground. With the heart of a twelve year old boy, he’d picked it up and put it on his fingers. Three boys paused by us, two grown men trying to remember how this thing worked, and leaned in.
“Pick a color,” my AP prompted. One did. G-R-E-E-N. “Pick another.” R-E-D. “Now let’s open it up…”
And that’s when we both realized, even if the curious, laughing kids didn’t, that we had no idea what was written inside.
Now over and over again my AP and I have told kids and parents how proud we are that our school is a place where people can make mistakes and learn from failing in a safe space. We talk about the importance of taking risks and doing so in an environment that is kind and around adults who are there not to punish them, but to help them learn. It looked like the tables had been turned.
So with a slow intake of breath, we opened the cootie catcher.
“There, that one!” the boy pointed at the inside of the folded paper. And we read: You will do well on your test today.
After the boys walked to class, we looked at each other and took a minute to reflect on the quality of kids we’re blessed to have at our school. Then we talked about that bundle of contradictions that are the middle school years. On the cusp of high school, and just leaving the orbit of elementary school, sweetness sits side by side with the urge to push boundaries and exert independence.
Very often we see a student somewhat different from the face that twelve or thirteen year old shows her mom or dad. Sure we see the student who texts in class or is figuring out what flirting is, but we also see the kid who giggles when he gets to join a three-legged race at lunch or shoot a rocket in science class. We get to help students navigate those waters between 6th grade and their freshman year, and even as we promote responsibility, model industry, and nurture growing maturity, we know that this is a time to celebrate cootie catchers and messages as innocent as “you will do well on your test today.”