Eighth grade for me was, more than anything else, standing in the yard with my best friend and next-door neighbor playing catch with a Frisbee for hours on end while we talked about anything and everything. Years later, when I would watch the movie “Stand by Me” and listen to the closing line, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” I would think of Phil.
School was okay. I was terrified to attempt my first 1500-word paper, and thrilled when I finished it and thought it was really pretty good. Algebra I stretched me like no course before and few since; while I kept saying I hated it, I did feel deep down that it was doing me some good. Somehow. And my science teacher let some friends and I retake “Television” as a mini-unit. Having already mastered how to run the studio and write TV scripts, we were able to focus all month on producing an extended-length satirical newscast. Differentiated, project-based learning well before they were (to my knowledge) buzz words. Yeah ARJHS.
Gym remained a low point, however. I still loved sports, but I had barely grown from the 4’7″ 70-pound 7th-grade version of me. So, for example, the volleyball unit was spent hoping no one would ever hit it to me, not just out of the fear (and near certainty) of hitting it wrong but also from knowing if they did send the ball my way, my captain would hip-check me out of the way so he could hit it himself, reminding me (as if I could forget), “Ivey, you suck at volleyball.” I’m still not sure why the gym teacher let that happen every day. I know that while he felt free to look down his nose at me and comment, “Bill. Try again and take it seriously this time.” after I had just about killed my arm muscle doing the softball throw for the President’s Physical Fitness Award; he said nothing when I ran the third-fastest 600m in the class despite my short legs. It would be nearly 20 years before anyone would tell me I had any talent for running at all, and on that occasion I immediately thought of my eighth grade gym teacher.
Randy came after me again, though this time with a different big kid to do his dirty work. At least this time I knew the drill, and it wasn’t long before he had again given up. I still have no clue why he singled me out.
By the end of all this, I was so ready for ninth grade. ARJHS (now ARMS) is just a five minute walk away from ARHS, so while my homeroom would still be in the Junior High, I would be in the High School for some of my classes. I couldn’t wait.
Of course, by the time I got about halfway to ARHS for my very first class there, I could definitely wait. The memory of my first day in Junior High was still fresh, not to mention a mental image of garbage cans in the bathroom, and I had the uncomfortable feeling that some percentage of the high school kids might not love the fact that a little junior high kid would dare to walk into the building. Fortunately, my math and English teachers were really supportive, reminiscent of my 7th grade social studies teacher, and if some kids did in fact look at me funny, no one actually beat me up. I decided I was too small for them to be bothered by me. Whatever. As long as I remained in one piece, I was happy. Caught between two worlds, but happy.
French became my favorite subject. Monsieur Luippold really understood kids, and allowed his own playful side to come out at least as often as our own. I liked him so much I joined the bike club, and along with him and a dozen or so other kids, would explore the Pioneer Valley nearly every weekend. I saw my friends’ older brothers and sisters preparing to go on the annual trip to France and resolved to go myself when I was a Junior. As this trip introduced me to my future wife, caused me to fall in love with France and decide to become a French teacher, and led eventually to my getting a job working with adolescents where I taught French, led a bike group, and organized a school trip to France, you could say that no single teacher had more influence on my life than Jim (which I was allowed to call him once I was in high school) Luippold. I hung out in his room after school every day, and along with my future wife, would successfully apply to do an ALPS (Alternative Learning Something or Other) course in French tutoring as a senior.
At the end of 9th grade, I was set on the path to my very first teaching gig. When I started at ARJHS, I could barely swim, but did learn to swim a reasonable distance (if with poor form) through my three years there. I was stunned when I was selected to be one of the first cohorts of the “Hurricane Guard” (the high school’s teams were and are called the “Hurricanes”), high school students who would work with junior high students in swim classes as the teacher lifeguarded. They told me they thought that, since I had successfully overcome my fear of the water to learn to swim while in Junior High, I would be able to empathize with other kids in my position and perhaps help them learn to swim where others might not. I spent the final two-week mini course of my Junior High career taking (and passing) the Red Cross Water Safety Instruction course. I did help a number of kids over the next two years, but asked to stay in regular gym classes as a senior because walking back from the Junior High pool in mid-winter with frozen hair was starting to wear thin. Besides, I had my French tutoring ALPS set up, so I would be able to teach through that venue.
Meanwhile, Dick and Mo Conville, the Junior High Sunday School teachers, worked for hours on end to help us perform a dramatic reading on Children’s Day in place of the usual sermon. It was a play essentially of equal roles, except for one part which had been deliberately written to echo the life of Jesus. I was given the honor of playing that role, and with Dick and Mo’s support and coaching, brought tears to the eyes of several members in the congregation.
Heather Wolpert-Gawron asked to what extent the student we used to be still exists, and I have to say in my case the answer is to a very great extent. I am still short and not as athletic as I would wish to be, I still love music but fall short of my potential, I still love to think and be stretched and am occasionally pleased with what I can come up with, I still live kind of on the fringes but get along with most people and have a few close friends, I still love dramatic reading, and I still stand up in favor of respecting the dignity of every human being. I remember how overwhelming things can feel to a middle school kid, and I know how much potential you can unlock simply by caring about them.
And of course, I still teach.
– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean