Middle School is Over!

Beth drove Noah out to West Virginia on Friday so he can spend a week of R&R with her mom, because while June still has another half-day of school on Monday, Noah’s last day was Thursday and his promotion was Friday morning. He’s officially a high school student now.

Thursday he had his last exam (geometry) in the morning and then the whole eighth grade went on a riverboat cruise in the afternoon. He didn’t have much to say about it except they could see the Washington Monument from the boat and the food wasn’t very good and there was a dance, in which he did not participate, but it was better than being in school.

Because of the cruise he didn’t get home until around five and when he did he yelled, “Middle school is over!” so many times that he got hoarse.

Before I talk about promotion, though, I want to tell you about the last big event of the year for kids in the Humanities magnet.


The first Monday in June Beth and I both took off work to watch the eighth-grade documentaries and multimedia presentations at AFI, a lovely art deco theater in downtown Silver Spring. They do this every year; it’s called F-CON, for final conference. (Many of their big projects have acronyms for names. The best acronym this year was ARMPIT—Antebellum Reform Movement Presentation in Technology. His was a PowerPoint presentation about a mid-nineteenth century labor leader.)

As we approached the theater, we saw they’d actually put his school’s name and F-CON on the marquee along with the other names of all the directors and films playing there. Beth shot a one-minute video of it. F-CON is at the very end.

F-CON was actually the third set of documentaries his class made this year, which was heavy on media projects. In the fall, they spent a week in New York City, interviewing subjects for biographical documentaries. Noah’s group interviewed a composer. In the winter they participated in a documentary contest about current events C-SPAN sponsors. Noah’s group did theirs on the repeal of DOMA and they interviewed Beth and me about how the legislation affected us. Despite the fact that I am in it, I have not seen this film because Noah, who has strong perfectionist tendencies, was not satisfied with the final product and didn’t want to share it. This is often how it goes with him, so I was glad he was basically forced to let us watch this film, which compared the banking panic of 1819 to the financial crisis of 2008.

It was great. All the films, websites, and skits were great. Beth said she kept thinking of little things they could change or include and had to stop and remind herself they are thirteen and fourteen years old. You forget that when you watch their work; it’s that professional. The assignment was to compare an event from the past to one in the present, along the theme of Challenges and Choices. The Salem witch trials and the Sedition Act of 1789 were popular topics. There were also presentations comparing the development of the steam locomotive and the D.C. Metro, as well as the first Transatlantic cable and the Internet. One film compared the Boston Massacre to last summer’s Ferguson protests and another examined themes of Romanticism in rock music.

There were fifteen presentations, lasting from 8:30 to noon. During the lunch break we took Noah out to Noodles and Company and Fro-Zen-Yo, then we went shopping at the AT&T store, where I got a new phone, my first smart phone. Never say I’m not a hip, up-to-date, cutting edge sort of person. (The next day I sent my first text.)

Anyway, back at AFI we watched a retrospective video a committee of eighth graders put together, using pictures and video from their three years of middle school. It was mostly chronological so the first pictures we saw of Noah were of his eleven-year-old self, on the Outdoor Education field trip they took for several days in the fall of sixth grade. He was practically a little boy compared to the big teenager we live with now. We saw more pictures of him and his peers dressed as figures from Greek myths at Greek Fest in sixth grade, doing research at the library at the University of Maryland in seventh grade, and being tourists in New York last fall, as well as pictures of them in the classroom, on stage, and on the soccer field. (It seems a lot of them were in drama club and played girls’ soccer.) I wished Noah, who did submit a bunch of photos, had sent some of the band. Anyway, it was lovely and sentimental and seemed so final that after we left it was hard to adjust to the reality that they still had two weeks of school (including a week of exams) left in their middle school careers.

But those weeks passed. Noah took exams in Spanish II, American History, English, Earth Science, and Geometry. His Media Production class had no exam. Some kids were still doing oral presentations that had been going on for weeks, but his was finished before exam week.


On Thursday Beth and I realized neither of us had asked Noah if he’d picked up his promotion tickets. There had been many stern notices from the school about the deadline for doing this and when I called the main office saying I had “a question about promotion tickets” the person I was talking to snapped at me that there were no more tickets available. When I clarified I just wanted to know if a specific student had collected his, she was friendlier. I was relieved to find he had, and thought we really would have been out of luck if he hadn’t.

Noah’s school has no auditorium so promotion was at a nearby high school. After I put June on the school bus we drove out there. We got there fifteen minutes before the doors opened for students. Dressed up teenagers and their parents were milling around, a lot of the girls wobbling in high heels. They let the students in first and then the guests. I was glad to get inside as it was a very hot day.

The jazz band was up on stage playing. The did a lot of the same numbers they did at the concert a few weeks earlier, but also “Summertime,’ which I thought was a nice tune to play for antsy teens on the verge of their summer break.

While we waited for the ceremony to begin Beth read a text from her mom, reminiscing about her own (her mom’s, not Beth’s) junior high school graduation. She even remembered what she wore. Beth said she wasn’t certain if she even had a junior high school graduation and that if she did, she didn’t remember anything about it. I remember the rehearsal for my middle school one, but not the actual promotion because I didn’t go. We’d moved in December of my eighth grade year and I didn’t really feel connected to my new school so I skipped it. At the time my mother’s boyfriend told me I’d regret it. Thirty-four years later, I don’t regret not going because it wouldn’t have been meaningful to me, but that fact itself makes me a little sad. It took me a long time to make friends after that move and it was a painful time in my life.

There were a bunch of kids on stage, who were going to give speeches, sing songs, play an instrument, or step dance (yes, really). I really wasn’t expecting quite so many performances, but it was nice. They alternated between speeches and musical selections. Noah has some very talented classmates. There was a very polished performance of “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” and a rather spirited duet of “Lean On Me,” with the audience encouraged to clap to the beat and sing the chorus. There was also a surprise performance of a very popular retired coach, who sang “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” (The school mascot is an eagle.) It turns out he has a lovely baritone voice.

The performances and speeches went on so long I began to wonder if they were substitutes for having the class walk across the stage. Beth must have, too, because when the principal announced she was going to start reading names, Beth expressed surprise, and perhaps a little dismay. There are two hundred eighty five kids in his class, it was ten forty and promotion had already been going on for an hour and ten minutes by that point.

It also happened to be the day the House was voting on Trade Promotion Authority for the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade deal Beth’s union has been working to defeat for months, and she wanted to be home in time to track the voting, which was supposed to start at eleven. (It was delayed until early afternoon so it didn’t end up happening during promotion. Thank goodness.) Anyway, the principal speed-read her way through the names and it didn’t take long. Then it was over and Noah was a high schooler.

Beth had go to the parking lot to find the band teacher, who had the medal Noah had forgotten to collect at school. They won them in competition, and while it’s the kind of thing Noah often doesn’t care about, he wanted this one. It meant something to him, so Beth went to find Mr. P and I stayed in the lobby waiting for Noah to emerge. Finally I texted him (because I can do that now)—“Where are you?” He answered with an image of a red car, so I joined Beth and Noah at the car.

In all the confusion, we never got a graduation picture. But we did take him out for an early lunch and for frozen yogurt because he asked. Beth asked if ice cream on the road would do—she was taking him to West Virginia later that day—and he said yes, but then he added quietly, “but now would be nicer.” One of the advantages of being a person who doesn’t ask for much is that sometimes, when you do ask, people listen, at least if that person is your mother. Beth agreed. We ran into both the principal of his school and his English teacher at the deli where we ate lunch and his fourth grade teacher at the frozen yogurt place.

Back at home, Beth had some work to do, related to TPP, and they both had to pack so it was almost three by the time they left. They arrived in Wheeling at eight and had pizza and the next morning Noah went swimming at Beth’s aunt Carole’s condo with Beth’s cousin Holly. Beth was wearing a t-shirt that said, “Let Summer Begin,” and for Noah at least, it has.