Every year we say goodbye to the latest group of eight graders and say hello to a brand new group of sixth graders. It is an occasion for both joy and sadness. Joy because we are welcoming new members to community, and celebrating the culmination of a period of time in which so much has changed for these young people.
Often when sixth graders attend their first gathering they come as children. They do not have the self-awareness of the way that others perceive them. This can be profoundly annoying or beautiful, depending the on the day, or the activity. Sixth graders can express emotions without reservation, jumping for joy because we are serving burritos for dinner, or screaming in sadness because free time is over. They become completely absorbed in the here and now.
Often by eighth grade these same young people have developed a keen sense for what the people around them are thinking and feeling about them. While they can occasionally use this knowledge to antagonize, often they are acting as helpful guides to the younger MSF’s trying to navigate the structure of the weekend. They show up as leaders by modeling the the culture that makes Middle School Friends feel like a safe community and the lending expertise and experience to the activities the MSF engage in.
Every year we have a ceremony honoring our eight graders at the last official Middle School Friends gathering of the year, Camp Swatara. I am always both sad to see them go, and excited to watch them take the next step in joining the Young Friends community!
What exactly is an “eighth” grader?
Sometimes, because someone is a different age than most of the people in their class, or they are home schooled and don’t identify with a grade level, it is unclear what constitutes an eighth grader. We want to make clear when it is time to move on so that the Young Friends program gets a steady and vital stream of new members, but we don’t want people to opt to move on early (even if many of their friends are) because we value the leadership that the oldest participants bring to the middle School Friends program.
In order to be clear about what it means to be in eight grade, and to move into the Young Friends program we have created the following guidelines about who moves on.
If your child will be both 14 years old and have completed eight grade in school by August 1st of this year, we consider them an eighth grader who is moving into the Young Friends program.
If they are either 14 and have not completed eight grade (or an equivalent for home schoolers), or they have completed eighth grade but will not yet be 14, we will have a clearness process in which they are able to make a decision about the best time to move on with the help of some of our Friendly Adult Presences at the Swatara gathering.
If they are neither 14 years old, nor have completed eighth grade, we expect that they will continue to be a Middle School Friend next year.
Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns about the Middle School Friends moving up policy.