Going from worshipping Chester’s Flaming Hot Cheetos to worshipping teachers that round up on a 89.5 percent to 90 may not be your typical idea of a transition from middle school to high school, but coming from a less academically focused middle school, it was the change of a lifetime.
Two years ago, I went to Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Middle School, a school with 65 percent of sixth graders scoring lower than proficient in English Language Arts in 2012 and even worse, 70 percent of sixth graders scoring low in math. In middle school, there was no such thing as “Oh my gosh, I have to study for my test,” or “Oh my gosh, I have homework to do!” or even “Oh my gosh! I have to try in school!” The environment was completely different; people cared more about their new Jordans, or as we called them our kicks and pickups, than anything related to academics. Of course, although the overall environment was unmotivated and unambitious, there were some teachers and students that stayed on track and contributed to the welfare of the school. But that took inspiration, something students discovered in taking part in sports and other outside activities like I did.
Hair-pulling fistfights were common during our hectic all-grade lunches and there were many other distracting — even dangerous — incidents throughout the day. When my friend was threatened by a teacher to have her parents called, she walked to the phone cord, picked it up and laughed while cutting it in half with a pair of scissors. Another one of my close friends got really irritated by a boy who persisted in poking her and she threw his backpack out the window of the top floor. During my eighth grade year, the school was in the news because some sixth graders found rat poison that looked like green cookies in a classroom drawer, and they thought it would be funny to feed them to other clueless sixth graders. Having my school on the news for students attempting to poison other students isn’t exactly my ideal of fame and glory.
Because of having to deal with crazy situations almost every day, I experienced many real world problems early on, such as handling issues with tobacco, guns and alcohol. I grew up fast, but was motivated to stay above the influence after seeing the consequences for students who gave into peer pressure. I learned how to deal with difficult people, and how to take care of myself in hard situations. In just our three years at MLK, everyone in my circle of friends from middle school has gotten at least 100 dollars worth of stuff stolen from them; whether it was a phone, cash, etc. Bribes, tricks, and putting out bait were all plans we concocted to reclaim our rightful property, but nothing seemed to work. Although upsetting, we wearily accepted the status quo and learned the valuable lesson of being able to let things in life go.
Despite my surroundings, I enjoyed going to class and learning. But was I a weirdo for wanting to get on the right path for the rest of my life? At MLK, unfortunately, yes; I was the nerdiest girl around. Although middle school sucked because of how unmotivated the students were, I took advantage of the opportunities it did offer. I had a few teachers were extremely supportive and constantly motivated me while I asked for challenging work from them, hoping to learn how to swim while many of my peers continued to float on the endless boat of childhood. My teachers were the main reason why I chose to apply to a high school that would turn the tide for me.
Overall, the raucous diversity of MLK did give me small yet important qualities. I learned how to make jokes and connect with others, in my former classmates’ words; “keeping it lit.” Being a better people person entering Lowell, four times the size of my entire middle school, I’ve been able to make numerous friends who share my interests, such as running, volleyball and writing. Though it’s nice to be able to get away from the distractions from my old school and be enriched by the new, sometimes I miss how life was not as serious and jam-packed –– it was a shock facing my first semester of classes with no lunch while managing a sport.
Middle school was a time of experience and growth, from dealing with people fighting over who had the “cleanest and phreshest” shoes to actually requesting homework from teachers to learning how to build relationships with every type of person. Now, as a proud academic “ratchet”, nothing can stop me! Not even the urge to buy those 36 oz. bags of Flaming Hot Cheetos… Okay, maybe occasionally Cheetos before those grueling AP exams, but you know what I mean.
Illustration by Hoi Leung and Kimberly Li