This past Friday was the 8th Grade Formal/Prom. We referred to it as the “formal” this year at our school because we are trying to move away from the idea that the eighth grade is any kind of stopping point in our students’ education. Eighth grade graduation is a very big deal in NYC because many students and their families readily assume they will hit no other major milestone in the wide world of education. Sadly, many of them are correct, but that does not excuse a community mentality that eighth grade is any kind of stopping point and should be celebrated as such. The group of students I began my career with last year was plagued by this general disposition, in part because there were more low-functioning, over-aged students. This year the contrast in students made me think I was a middle school teacher again, as I’d felt while student teaching in a middle school outside of NYC.
The formal this year went off far better than last year. Our science teacher led the planning effort again and based on what we did last year knew how to pull the thing down efficiently and cost effectively. Last year we spent endless hours building plastic columns and arches from a kit that cost over a grand, logging over twenty man-hours apiece in the couple of days leading up to the dance with a large group of students just to get the thing ready (during which I got some sweet second degree burns when operating a very tricky hot-glue gun while sleep-deprived). While it looked impressive and the students really appreciated the whole thing, it was clear once it was over that things would have to change for this year.
After the dance started, the difference between the two groups of students was blindingly apparent and continued to be throughout the night. A few things contributed to this rebirth of a traditional junior high dance at our school. When I say “traditional junior high dance,” I guess I’m referring mostly to the way the students were dancing and interacting with one another. Last year our eighth graders were bumping and grinding like they were eighteen or older, practically making babies on the dance floor. I spent the better part of three hours prying students apart, our large intimidating math teacher (the only one who could have really prevented it) just watching and laughing the entire time as she had done most of the year when I’d tried to put my foot down. Personally, I thought the dancing was atrocious and unacceptable, but she was on her way out and couldn’t care less. The dance this year was a far cry from the writhing mess of last year- the students danced in circles most of the time and separated themselves naturally into groups of girls and boys, awkwardly approaching one another during songs that warranted it. We spoke to a couple students near the end who started to get a bit more ambitious, but even the couple of high schoolers who came as dates were very respectful and appropriate the whole time.
Our eighth graders this year are about six months younger on average than the group we had last year. While that might not sound a like a lot, the difference between a fourteen year-old and fifteen year-old in the South Bronx (and really anywhere) is incredible, especially if the student is of the type that has been held back. This year we also did a far better job of holding students more accountable for academics and behavior as we approached the end of the year, which kept most of the knuckle-heads on the “do not admit” list - students who would have caused the most trouble, danced in the most inappropriate manner, etc.
Another factor, something that was not at all present last year, was that two of the biggest male personalities at the dance were not very interested in grinding on all of the girls in spite of the fact that the girls outnumbered the boys two to one. While they haven’t openly declared it (and probably won’t as long as they live or go to school in one of the most homophobic neighborhoods in the United States), our entire team is all but certain that the young men are probably gay. While that certainly doesn’t mean they wouldn’t bump and grind, the more boisterous of the two (and also the most boisterous at the dance in general) led the effort to keep the energy level high, marching around the dance floor like a party planner, demanding the other students join him in jumping and screaming, taking pictures like nobody’s business and inadvertently breaking up most love-connections and couples who might otherwise “lose” themselves in each other’s starry-eyed gaze on the dance floor/grind and make babies. In fact, most of the evening it looked more likely that a mosh pit would evolve than any babies be made.
When we sent them home (an hour earlier than last year- another brilliant move) the whole team agreed that it had gone off without a hitch and that it was the most pleasant dance we’d ever witnessed in the school’s history. The students and the staff had equally great times and it was a fantastic way to wrap up the year. It also sent (and will continue to send as the students talk about it next week) the message to those students who did not do their jobs this year that they can in fact miss out on great things because of their actions, even if being promoted to the next grade is not one of those things.
Today’s Wine: Martha Clara North Fork Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. The description says a lot of things and I only remember t being peppery. At any rate, this one was picked up at the Martha Clara Vineyards out on Long Island- part of a another wine tour we did this past weekend. We'd been to this vineyard before, which started to put some perspective on the size of the wine region on Long Island.