The Middle School Volcano:
Miriam Webster defines volcano with these words “a vent in the crust of the earth or another planet or a moon from which usually molten or hot rock and steam issue” and “something of explosively violent potential” Doesn’t that sound like the Middle School experience? Verdad que si? Just ask any 6th, 7th or 8th grader, they’ll tell you how hard it is, IF you can get them out of their sullen state. My middle school initiation was perhaps the worst ever! A 6th grader is supposed to be the top dog in elementary school. You know, the ones everyone looks up to. I was ready for my time to shine in that place.
Leaders of the Middle School
Back in the ancient days of the 70s, in my little town of Calipatria, the classroom announcements for the new school year was a huge deal. It was both an exciting and nerve racking time, I mean our happiness rested on who was gonna be our teacher and if my current best friend would sit in the desk next to us.
The hot scorching desert sun could not stop us from that mile-long walk across the tracks. We rushed past the gas station, the grocery store, the laundromat, the Bank of America, the Circle K, park and library. Our sun scorched skin simply soaked in more sun. We had to know what our future held. This was an exciting time for me and my sister Patty, she was gonna be in 8th grade, imaginate! Even though I would barely see her around I was so proud of her, 8th grade, wow! Y pues, I was sorta following in her steps, 6th grade, a big kid in the elementary level, I needed this promotion.
Z is for Last in Line
Zepedas were ALWAYS at the bottom of the list. Last in line, y porque? Totally not fair! But it was so. My eyes automatically went to the bottom of the lists for our names. Pattys homeroom teacher was Mr. Carter. Hijole! That’s the one she didn’t want, she said he was mean. I wondered what a homeroom was?
Imaginate my dismay when I did not see my name in either 6th grade classes. Maybe I flunked? Que verguenza to do 5th grade again? No que muy Honor Roll student, what would my friends say about me? And my apa, oh no…
Then, I saw a whole new class was posted, my name, Rosalba Zepeda was found at the bottom of that list. A hybrid class with both 6 and 7th graders. Que? A mixed class? Porque? Mrs. Lara was gonna be my new teacher. She was kinda different because she had married Mr. Lara and he was Mexican-American. She was white! I had never seen that! I didn’t even know that was allowed. Mrs. Lara was new to our school and a new wife and new to a mixed classroom. Was the school experimenting with us? Was there no place for people with Z names or new teachers who dared step out of the box?
The walk home was long and hot, I was burning up. My friends didn’t know what to think, they all had their names on the 6th grade roster. Patty was too angry about her homeroom teacher to feel bad for me because I was gonna be in that weird hybrid class.
My Middle School Hybrid Class
When September rolled around, I was tense. My classroom was out in a bungalow separate from the middle schoolers and also separate from the elementary kids. I felt like we were deserted, I wonder if Mrs. Lara felt the same? Was my class a 6th grade class or a 7th grade class? I had decided I was going to take my ‘big kid’ roll anyway, those 7th graders weren’t going to boss me around. I entered the class room looking confident, but feeling nervous. I picked my desk in front of the class. I didn’t want to test the 7th grade cool kids, besides I still had an honor roll reputation to uphold. It was going to be a long year. Here’s are the things that are bookmarked in my memory for that mixed year:
- I sat on my desktop and broke it!! Asi es, right in the front row for all to see, just before Mrs. Lara had called the class to quiet down, I was confidently sitting on my desktop table when all of a sudden, crack! I went down a notch. I managed to jump off as everyone laughed but the humiliation almost killed me. Mrs. Lara didn’t laugh.
- During recess, I made a stand to keep my victory in the game of Caracol and paid dearly for it. The 7th grader leader decided I wasn’t worth her acquaintance so everyone else followed her lead. I was marked as the target the entire hybrid 6th grade year. When girls decide to be mean, hijole! Cuidate!. Needless to say, it was a lonely year. Mrs. Lara saw the separation, and was on my side.
- This bookmark will probably be red flagged. It happened like this. One day during PE our class got to participate in a softball game with the mighty 8th graders. That meant I was gonna be with Patty! Yes! Those rare moments in school when you get to be close to one of your big sisters and feel real safe and secure. Softball wasn’t Patty’s strength, but some of her other peers, like the catcher was a superstar. Patty was feeling her disdain every time she went to the plate. Her class was losing. She was sick and tired of the “trash talk” She walked to plate and positioned herself to bat. The catcher cried out “She’s no batter” She gripped that bat, ready to kill that ball. Strike! And she tensed, poised. “Strike Two!” the catcher taunted as she swung and missed. Her lips thinned and began to get dark purple. That was always a sign to me that I had gone past the point of no return and she was gonna kick my butt! To top it off my enemies laughed and taunted her and me. I held my breath. The catcher pricked her one last time “she’s no batter, strike three!” Patty didn’t even look at the ball being pitched, she swung and struck out. Without missing a beat, she threw her bat down. She turned around and confronted the catcher, throwing her to the ground making her face her taunting words, the volcano had exploded, the pressure of 8th spewed out. We all ran to the plate and surrounded the girls, the chatter and provoking challenges “Don’t let her get away with that” were smothered as the teachers put a quick end to the fight. Mr. Carter easily lifted both girls and walked them to the principal’s office. Somehow some pressure had been lifted off me. I looked at my arch enemy and dared her with my eyes to mess with me again. It would be a giant I would eventually have to face in middle school, pero, for the moment, I felt invincible, that was my big sister, I dared anyone to mess with her.
Those experiences shape us as adults. It’s not “just” puberty. We experience that humiliation that helps keep our heads from getting too big later in life. We learn how to empathize and notice when someone isn’t being treated fairly or when someone feels left out because we’ve been there before. And when we look that bully in the eye and make a stand, we learn that we can over come anything.
Middle School is not an easy time, I’m sure everyone has their stories of fear and rejection. If you’ve got a child in middle school, remember those days and use them to help your kid make it and maybe even thrive.