“It’s May.” This statement has been uttered around campus in a variety of tones—joyful, worried, exhausted, tense, anticipatory, even surprised (How did it happen so fast?). Our middle school students are anticipating the upcoming transition with a mix of emotions. Transitions require more energy than those seemingly steady times of year, and the prospect of change can bring a new and complex set of feelings. At home, parents see this played out in brief conversations and during mealtimes—a mix of worry and excitement. At school, we see an increase in relational conflicts.
The rites and rituals of school life can help anchor the mix of emotions surfacing at this time of year. Since the beginnings of Bosque School, there have been meaningful traditions that have guided students, their families, and teachers though this exciting and challenging time. May marks the 8th grade Writer’s Cafe, Service Learning preschool buddy visits, 8th grade backpacking trip, Senior Colloquium, All-School Concert on the quad, Middle School Ceremony, and Senior Commencement, to name a few. Our calendars are full of events marking this important transition.
Next Monday, our students head out into the New Mexican wilderness for the time-honored 8th grade backpacking experience. Their middle school experience, which began in the cabins of the Manzano Mountains, culminates with the students carrying their belongings on their backs and sleeping in the wilderness. Parents, there will be plenty of worries and “what ifs” prior to the trip, but the rewards of confidence, independence, and strengthened relationships always rise above the pre-trip worries. Each year, I love welcoming the teams back—tired, but proud.
Then next Thursday, we host the Middle School Ceremony, formerly called the 8th Grade Ceremony. This year, many of the cherished parts of the ritual remain—the setting under the beautiful cottonwoods, students dressed in their best attire, well wishes from teachers, student speeches, poetry readings, and the reading of students’ names. In addition, we have added several new elements to mark the day for our younger students: 6th graders will officially “move up” to 7th grade, and 7th graders will officially move up to 8th grade. We are excited to invite our 6th and 7th grade parents to attend the Middle School Ceremony this year. (We have also invited our incoming 6th grade students; most are still in school, but we hope that some will be able to attend.) It will be held on Thursday, May 26 at 9:30 a.m. in Sanchez Park. We hope you will enjoy this time-honored ritual and the new elements of the ceremony.
Rituals can help us all be mindful of change—what has passed and what is ahead. These rites provide a space for students to reflect on all they have accomplished and help them to develop a vision for their future.
Coincidentally, I did some thinking about transitions at the start of the year. Please see my August 2015 blogpost for ways parents can support their children during transitions. I have summarized the ideas below:
1. Routines and rituals are important for children of all ages. Though routines and rituals change over time, they still provide a sense of safety, predictability, and stability while other parts of their lives are in flux. Yet, often during a transition, routines and rituals are the first things to fly out the window, so to speak. Keep those home rites and rituals that matter to your children.
2. Be okay acknowledging uncomfortable feelings. It’s okay if the dominant feeling during a transition is not excitement. Last summer’s Pixar film Inside Out illustrates the complexity of feelings during a transition. In the film, the protagonist, 11-year-old Riley, moves with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco. The move generates a lot of emotions, which the parents feel ill-equipped to handle. They also are adjusting to new jobs and a new home. In response to Riley’s sadness, they say things like, “Where’s our happy girl?” Her altered state has them confused and unsure how to approach her. Instead, to sit with the discomfort allows parents to understand more of what their child is feeling and helps forge strong connections. Children want to be understood; being okay with the discomfort of what they might be feeling or the ambiguity of the situation allows them to feel understood and connected. Life can feel messy at times, and this is okay.
3. Remember the biological. Transitions take a lot of energy, in general, and a school day usually requires more social, physical, intellectual, and emotional energy than is used during the summer months. Couple that with puberty—when the gray matter in a child’s brain is growing at the same rate as when they were two years old— and you have a situation that requires both nutrition and sleep as top priorities. I am always grateful for the advice of my child’s pediatrician, whose “Remember the biological first” mantra helps me move away from questioning, “Is my child ever going to be able to be empathetic?” to “Has she had enough sleep?” and “When did she last eat?” As state-based creatures, our brains, particularly as teenagers, are in need of these biological necessities in order to function at their best.
In the midst of end-of-year transitions, the rites and rituals of school life can help our children (and all of us) reflect on the past and envision what is ahead. “It’s May,” but as Dame Julian of Norwich once wrote, “And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well.”