Yesterday, my sixth grader had her first middle school homework. She bounced through the front door, dropped her backpack at her chair and said, “Yeah, I have homework. It’s due on Thursday.” While I read through the homework expectations letter from her math teacher, she started rummaging around in the office and came to the table with a baggie full of colored pencils. She didn’t say anything more, she just took out some papers and started working on them. I finished the letter, signed on the dotted line, and continued on with some other projects. After a little bit, she picked up her papers, put her baggie of pencils away, packed her backpack and told me she was going to go have quiet time in her room.
Admittedly, the homework this first week is not heavily academic. This level of independence, however, leaves me feeling emotional. A few years ago, every single night ended up with her crying and throwing pencils in frustration and me pulling my hair out over homework. I dreaded the end of the school day. The past two years have been much better, but just last year, we often battled about getting assignments done before the last minute. For her to tell me, “Well, I will probably have homework tomorrow, so I just got that done,” is stunning.
Tonight she brought home the letter from the music department. The sixth graders participate in a music survey class at the beginning of the school year where they learn about the choir, band, and strings options before making a choice to go in one direction or another. She participated in fifth grade choir last year and really enjoyed it. I figured she would want to do choir again this year. And she does. Imagine my surprise when she informed me that she could do choir and either band or strings – and that she was interested in band. Wow!
She giggled at what must have been a stunned look on my face. “Really, you are interested in band?” “Yes! I just told you,” she said. Wow, that’s great. “What kind of instrument are you interested in learning,” I asked. She giggled some more. “Trombone.” Wow, trombone. Wow.
I’m sure she thought I was nuts as I reviewed the information in the letter with her. I asked her if she was sure she was interested in band, not strings. There are parent meetings upcoming that I will have to attend. I need to know for certain. I want to believe, but there is a part of me that is cautious. I asked if she knew that learning an instrument would require practice at home. She was not daunted. After asking her at least three more times if she was sure, I said, “Well, I better get that parent meeting for band on my calendar.” “Yep,” she smiled.
There was only one more component to homework tonight. She needed to log into the school’s website and fill out and application for the Renaissance Team. Renaissance is the school’s reward program for student achievements and the team, she tells me, consists of eight students from each of the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade who help to plan the reward activities. She had taken a computer keyboarding class this summer, and as she set about to fill in the online application, I took note of her fingers resting on the home row keys. She not only remembered but used the fingering that she’d learned. It took about a half an hour for her to fill out the form, which included saying what she would bring to the team and why she wanted to be a part of it. She answered the questions herself. She looked up words for correct spelling in the dictionary. And throughout the whole process, she was smiling and giggling over filling out the form. I saw an excited, self-confident middle schooler. My heart burst just a little.
Who knows how it will all play out. Homework will no doubt get more challenging. Learning an instrument may sound like more fun than the reality of daily practice. Only eight sixth graders will end up on the Renaissance Team. No matter. She is starting out with an adventurous spirit. She is excited and interested in getting involved in new things at school. And I get a little teary just watching her starting to bloom.