It’s finally here – that bittersweet last day of school!

Now that the school year has come to an end, students have cleaned out lockers, signed each other’s yearbooks and made plans with friends for summer sleepovers. Most of them seem excited for summer break, but there are a few tears and more than a few apprehensive hugs. In this precarious world we live in, students and teachers alike realize the uncertainty of our collective future and just how fragile life can be.

In the three years that students attend middle school, we see them grow from cowering sixth-graders who sheepishly make their way through the halls and mature into overly confident eighth-grade students who are anxious but excited for changes and challenges. The middle school years are conspicuously awkward times when students are learning about their world, testing boundaries and comparing their growing bodies. Most want to conform; those who want to stand out in any way they can are few.

People always remark that it takes a special person to teach middle school, and they’re right. One minute, the students love you, while the next, they want to have nothing to do with you. It depends on the context or the situation. Their brains are absorbing as much social and emotional information as academic learning. Each school day can be full of surprises, frustrations, ongoing drama, but also lots of academic tasks that will help to shape our students into productive citizens ready to embark on new life experiences.

Adults who work in this environment are extremely supportive of their colleagues because we all know the energy and grit involved in doing this job well. Teachers, administrators and support staff all need to dig in their heels and work as a team to provide all members of our student population with a place to learn that is academically and developmentally ready for them. Beginning at the crack of dawn, the day’s schedule is full and the pace is fast, out of necessity, to fit it all in.

So when the calendar turns to June, relief and reflection seem to be the norm. Summer break tantalizes teachers to wrap up their curricula, and students are motivated to finish assignments and projects. Field days, field trips, awards and ceremonies get squeezed in as belly laughs and crying jags get squeezed out. With feelings of accomplishment, when that intense, emotional, last day of school arrives, we all anticipate and appreciate the leisure time ahead.

As is the tradition at our school, when the buses arrive to take students home on that last day, teachers line the curb while the students take their seats. Waving and shouting, adults and students wish each other a safe and happy summer. Their smiling faces peer out the bus windows until they are farther down the road and out of sight. Students who are headed to high school agree to come back for a visit – and when they do, we hope to be able to recognize them.