MAKING SENSE OF MIDDLE SCHOOL--Mr. Nixon taught 7th and 8th graders for thirteen years in the Churchville-Chili School District, a suburb of Rochester, NY. During that time, he wrote and delivered twice-weekly messages to the school community aimed at helping students make sense of the middle school experience. Topics included dealing with change, being a good friend, handling conflict and building self worth. With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr. Nixon has stepped forward to bring helpful new counsel to our middle school students and to make available a large library of previous "Words of Wisdom."
My granddaughter is a middle schooler having just entered eighth-grade. She is very athletic and focused her talents on dance for many years, but last year she discovered volleyball. I was thrilled personally because I can now go and watch her play. But it also started me thinking about the importance of team sports for our young people. In volleyball , you need someone to dig out the opponents’ serves, a setter to put the ball in just the right place so the outside player can finish off the play. If one of these players doesn’t do their job, it puts real strain on the whole team.
There is something incredibly healthy about being part of a team. A player is not on the court for her own glory, she is there to help the team succeed. This is a model that carries over into other facets of life. We are responsible for how our actions affect those around us. Each person must put the interests of the team ahead of her own individual needs. That’s how it works in team sports. That’s how it works in life.
Team sports can also have some downsides. Good sportsmanship can be sacrificed for winning at all costs. Pressure from overly competitive families can rob athletes of the fun of competing. As far as deciding how important winning should be, I know two things for sure. One, winning is not everything and two, losing is not the end of the world. Somewhere in between those two extremes lies an acceptable level of importance that you must find for yourself.
Whether you are athletic or not, you will still have the chance to be a part of a team in school and beyond. It is a great way to raise the quality of your life. Enjoy it!
I remember when I was the age of my students, my father’s parents came to live with us for a period of time. I remember asking my grandfather how he was doing. He used to say to me, “I’ve got my health and when you’ve got your health you’ve got just about everything.”
It’s funny. Now I know what he meant. As you get older the number of things that can go wrong increases and the importance of being healthy gets larger every day.
When you’re a student, your parents take care of you. When you’re sick, your folks get you to the doctor so you can get on your way and back to health. Many adults here at school are taking care of their parents. The ailments vary from an inability to get around to a loss of the sense of who they are. In some cases, disease takes its toll on those growing older as well.
I mentioned last week how important it is to be good and kind to other people. Those are habits you can learn when you’re 12, but they are skills that you will carry forward throughout your life. You may be asked at some point to help with another person, a friend or a relative, and, if you’ve gotten used to it at a young age, you’ll be able to be there for them. Caring young people become caring adults. Start today by helping others.
Feed The Wolf
The inauguration of President Obama has been dominating news coverage and rightfully so. It represents an historic milestone for our country. I was watching coverage of the morning after prayer service. The first woman to ever give the sermon at that event, the Reverend Sharon Jackson, spoke about a Cherokee story, which I thought I would share with you. It goes like this.
A young man is confiding in his Grandfather that he sometimes treats his friends harshly and sometimes kindly. He did not understand why.
His Grandfather said, “When I was your age…I felt like there were two Wolves fighting inside of me…one was mean and ornery, rebellious and committed to all things negative. The other was kind and gentle, respected nature and all living things, and always did what was best.” The grandfather continued, “These Wolves are still with me now; in fact, they live in each one of us.”
The young man asked, “Which wolf will win in the end?”
The Grandfather said, “The one you feed”.
Sometimes it is really confusing when we are torn between doing the right thing and giving in to our negative side. Understand that those two sides of us will always exist, but the one we let out the most, the one we feed, will become the most dominant part of our personality.
It’s interesting that Reverend Jackson chose to tell the new President this story. President Obama, just like you, will face daily challenges to his values. He will be called on, just like you, to treat people well or poorly. He will go forward every day, just like you, to decide whether to feed his kind and gentle wolf or to let out the negative ornery wolf. I hope he, just like you, will feed the right wolf.
I have had many students ask me the same question over the years: “Why do we have to take a foreign language?” Said a different way, they ask, “Why doesn’t everyone just learn English?” My answer is always the same: “Je ne comprends pas,” or, “no comprendo,” or “Ich verstehe nicht.” In other words, I don’t understand you, and if you don’t understand me, we’re going nowhere.
This is foreign language week at Churchville-Chili Junior High School. This is the week where we recognize how important it is to understand one another. Language begins that process, but it doesn’t ensure it. Think about the times you’ve misunderstood a friend, a parent or a teacher, and they’re all speaking English. Speaking and understanding a language just gives you a chance to be on the same wavelength as another person.
Besides making understanding easier, learning another person’s language is a statement of great respect. You are saying that the other person is so important that you are willing to work really hard to try and understand him or her.
Not only that, learning another language, learning about another culture and discovering another part of the world is fun. So, “Bon voyage,” or “Buen viaje!” Enjoy your journey.
I read a very interesting and moving article in Saturday’s Democrat and Chronicle. It was on the front page and told the story of a man and a woman, he 51, she 48, who had not had any contact in nearly 34 years. Their last meeting was a near tragic one, in the rain on Chestnut Ridge Road in Chili. The young man, Peter Cafarelli was 17, and had borrowed the family car to go to the Greece Hockey rink. Anita LaRoque, 14 at the time, was struck by Cafarelli’s vehicle, causing permanent physical damage.
What is striking to me about the story is the aftermath. Anita LaRoque, now a Hilton resident, took the time to find and contact Cafrarelli and to ask him to meet her and her family. In the D & C article, its author, Mark Hare states, “Now, nearly 34 years after that night, his (Cafarelli’s) burden has been lifted—or at least eased. Forgiveness is a tonic for the soul.”
Fortunately, not all of us will have such a big burden to carry, be we all will violate other people and we will need their forgiveness. We can’t make anyone forgive us for doing thoughtless or cruel acts. Remember, though, what a gift we can give by forgiving others. If you take a step like Anita LaRoque, and forgive the person who has wronged you, you’ll find out what a great gift you’ve given yourself.
Many of us are afraid of change. We assume that even if things aren’t exactly perfect now, they can always get worse. Remy Charlip wrote a children’s book called, “Fortunately.” Here’s how it starts:
“Fortunately, Ned was invited to a surprise party.
Unfortunately, the party was a thousand miles away.
Fortunately, a friend loaned Ned an airplane.
Unfortunately, the motor exploded.
Fortunately, there was a parachute in the airplane.
Unfortunately, there was a hole in the parachute.”
The story goes on and on. The point of the story, besides being funny, is that it is hard to tell sometimes what’s a good change and what’s a bad change. All we can really do is confront the changes we are faced with and make the best of them.
Cuban-French author Anais Nin writes, “We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."
She adds about herself, “There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Remember, the only constant in the world is change. Try not to be afraid of it.