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Opinion >  Column

Paul Turner: Troubling tales for incoming seventh-graders turned out to be rather tall

UPDATED: Tue., Aug. 28, 2018

Paul Turner (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Paul Turner (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Once upon a time, kids about to start their first year at middle school or junior high approached this transition with trepidation.

That was because of rumors that had been circulating all summer.

These chilling hearsay tales varied from place to place. But basically, they boiled down to this: Innocent, wide-eyed seventh-graders were doomed.

Word on the street was the older kids at school would be ready and waiting to provide a rough initiation.

There was always someone in your circle who knew the score. He would speak authoritatively in hushed tones of the horrors awaiting the brand new middle schoolers.

When pressed for specifics, he would forlornly shake his head and grimace about what was in store.

“Trust me. You don’t want to know.”

One was left wondering if there was a bounty on seventh-graders.

Just a few months before, the boys and girls about to start seventh grade had been at the top of the elementary school food chain. They strode the halls of their grade school with confidence and bravado.

They were somebody.

But now none of that mattered. Now the slate was wiped clean, everyone was starting over.

And the eighth- and ninth-graders were waiting, devilishly smiling and quietly patting clenched fists into open palms. Or so it was believed.

Why did it have to be this way? Couldn’t we all just get along?

Now any reasonable assessment of these rumors might have persuaded the newly minted seventh-graders that the foreboding forecasts were a tad exaggerated.

Remember, this was long ago. The sorts of front-page carnage students might reasonably fret about today were not even on the radar back then.

Back in the day, the prospect of being depantsed with extreme gusto or stuffed into a locker until a teacher or janitor heard your pitiful cries for help was more than enough to worry about.

Oh, sure. A kid who asked his or her parents about these rumors of impending trouble would almost certainly be told not to worry and be assured everything would be fine.

But you know how kid logic works. Skepticism about what, if anything, parents knew was almost always in order.

More often, the problem would be older siblings. Their recollections of the first week of seventh grade sometimes did nothing to calm the jittery nerves of little brothers and sisters.

“You’ll probably survive. You might not get pounded. Just watch your back.”

Or “Just stay calm – eighth-graders can smell fear.”

Not much comfort, as reassurances go.

Now a thoughtful analysis of community trends would have told the new seventh-graders that they weren’t really lambs being led to a frightening fate. Sometimes though, kids don’t have much faith in statistics.

“What if the older students end up culling one seventh-grader from the herd and that kid turns out to be me?”

Bullying is no joke. But that’s not really what I’m recalling.

I’m talking about a solemn rite of passage that had at least a few kids stepping lightly as they entered their middle school or junior high for the first time.

Fueled by rumors of frontier injustice and survival of the fittest, new seventh-graders faced their fears and came to terms with being a prey species at their new school.

Then, of course, it turned out that those rumors had been unfounded. Well, mostly. But that’s another story.

Assigned seating

Would you agree that seating charts are destiny?

If you recall your school days, there is a chance you remember teachers dictating where you sat in the classroom. Often these arrangements were alphabetical.

Sometimes this meant you wound up sitting next to some of the same kids in class after class, year after year.

That’s all well and good, if your seatmates were companionable young scholars who contributed to your classroom citizenship and deportment. But what if your alphabetically arranged neighbors were kids who always managed to crack you up at the most inopportune times?

First-grade food groups

Sooner or later, when the conversation turns to our earliest school days, the subject always comes around to paste eaters.

At least that’s how it seems to me.

Does everyone have recollections of at least one classmate who snacked on paste or Elmer’s glue?

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