From a Social Worker’s Perspective – What is Happening in Middle School?,
by Gayle Kamen, MSW
I have had the opportunity to work in several Houston ISD middle schools as a social worker. All schools districts reflect a microcosm of the larger community. Diversity, ethnicity, religions, cultures and socio-economics are all represented by the students attending the schools. But in addition to the demographic mixture, each Houston area school districts also have a variety of poverty, homelessness, hunger and family dysfunction.
At school, students are expected to learn, be attentive, responsible, respectful, kind and caring. Counter these expectations with the reality that between ages 12-14 students are changing physically, emotionally, hormonally, and psychologi-cally. Each day students test themselves and one another to fit in with a group, have a personal style, be different and select peers.
How they navigate teen years will be based on their PRO-SOCIAL BEHAVIOR. Pro-social behavior is the actions they take that promote a sense of empathy, cooperation, caring and helping others. These behaviors are learned and should be modeled daily.
Middle school is a proving ground for kids.
As a social worker I worked with students in mediation, helping them develop their pro-social behavior. I counseled children on how to use their inner strengths and resources. I would try to empower them to perform to their greatest potential in school despite the obstacles in their way.
I would encourage them to ask and answer these questions:
· Who do you identify with?
· Who are you choosing to be your peers?
· When you experience bullying, gang activity,
“mean girls”, how do you respond?
These questions must be answered seemingly each day in HISD schools.
I would also encounter parents who wanted to step in and make decisions for their children, as they did in elementary school. In middle school, I advised parents to be very selective about making decision. Instead of telling their child what to do, they should guide their children in deciding what is right and wrong, as well as helping them develop a clear understanding of who they are as individuals. Learning to make choices and decisions is a critical milestone, which is tested each day in a variety of different ways. Parents can’t be in school with their children every time a decision must be made.
Our goal should be to help children grow emotionally healthy, loving and resourceful lives. By being aware of pro-social behavior, and practicing it daily, we can help them enter into adulthood with a strong sense of self and respect for others and humanity. It truly does take a village.