From the terrible twos to the terrible teens, I’m in the parenting trenches these days.
Little did I know that except for shoe size and their nearly 12-year age difference, there isn’t much separating my firstborn son from my last born.
It took a talk with Meadowdale Middle School teacher Belinda Gloyd to set me straight.
"A teen-ager is a big 2-year-old," Gloyd said. "They’re in a big body, but they’re like a 2-year-old. They want their parents around, but they don’t. They still need that guidance, but the peer pressure is huge. Then you have those hormones."
Tell me about it. While my real 2-year-old is climbing to the 13-year-old’s top bunk, the big boy is in the bathroom plastering his hair with something that makes it stand up and smell weird.
"No, Mom," is a familiar phrase, and my guys are dead-even on its use. The experts would say my boys are looking for attention. My real 2-year-old, I’m afraid, gets the lion’s share of it.
That’s typical, according to Gloyd, who teaches special needs seventh- and eighth-graders at the Lynnwood school.
"In our society, when parents have to work, they don’t always have time to be with their child as much as they would like," she said. "We need to look at the whole person, not just that academic piece. We need to look at the emotional pieces."
I wasn’t looking at emotional pieces earlier this month when report cards came out. I was playing hardball, barking at my son about how this or that grade could — and would — be brought up, or else.
Gloyd and other teachers at Meadowdale Middle School favor a different method of encouragement. The school’s innovative Renaissance program spoons out a healthy dose of the three R’s.
"That’s recognizing, reinforcing and rewarding — the three R’s," said Grace Manning, another Meadowdale teacher.
The school links its three R’s to three A’s: academics, attitude and attendance.
"If you’re here and your attitude is good, the academics are going to reflect that. We try to focus on catching kids doing good," Manning said. "Teachers give out kudos. Today we gave one to a student for picking up another student’s artwork that had fallen off the wall."
It’s a small thing, but for a middle schooler caught in an act of kindness, a teacher’s recognition may be the best thing to happen all day.
Meadowdale has for five years been a Renaissance school. The program, started at the school by teacher Julianna Gillette, is associated with Jostens, a Minneapolis-based company that sells yearbooks, class rings and achievement awards.
"We try to send two people from our staff every year to a Renaissance conference. We sometimes buy Renaissance products, but that’s as far as we’re affiliated," Manning said. "Basically, we took their idea and went with it."
The idea is simple.
"Middle school can be scary ground," Manning said. "We wanted it to be a safe place." Kids feel safe when they feel appreciated.
Recognition at the school isn’t reserved for honor students and athletes. "It honors excellence, but also students who struggle. It also recognizes kids who are there every day," Gloyd said.
At regular assemblies, students who have improved their grades are asked to stand, even when those better grades aren’t all that hot. If a grade point average is up by .5, that student becomes a member of the High-Five Club.
"There are little rewards, tangible things like candy, pencils, magnets or Frisbees. We have great community partners, Astoria Pizza, Great American Bagel, Subway and McDonald’s," Manning said.
Students who have earned grade point averages of 4.0, 3.5 and up, or 3.0 and up are rewarded with gold cards, green cards or white cards, giving them freebies at area businesses.
The principal gets involved, doing a switch on the old routine of calling parents when kids are in trouble. "The principal gets a chance to make good calls, maybe 10 a week," Manning said.
So does it work, all this Mr. Nice Guy treatment? Probably better than my barking does.
"They may look like adults, but we need to recognize they’re still little kids. They still need that tenderness. Inside they still have a real soft spot," Gloyd said of middle schoolers.
Yeah, but does it work? With the grades, I mean?
"We have a teacher from a Florida school who could not believe the difference in attitude about grades here. It’s cool to do well," Manning said. "I love the environment here."
In a place full of giant 2-year-olds, that’s saying something.
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