New School Cool: How an old man learned that the kids of today will be alright

When I graduated from middle school many moons ago, I didn’t put much thought into the world I was leaving behind. All I could think about was the summer ahead and the anxiety that came with high school looming. Meanwhile, the school carried on, grooming the kids of today into the adults of tomorrow. It never dawned on me what that meant until I found myself returning to the scene of my awkward adolescence.

Just a few days ago, my middle school opened its doors to the public in order to celebrate a major milestone. A few minutes after the doors opened, my wife and I strolled in. Right off the bat, I geeked out at the sight of a now-retired science teacher who gave my classmate a -2 out of 20 on his test. For the record, my classmate got every question wrong and he got docked 2 points for talking during the test. There were no shortage of other moments that triggered my nostalgia, from seeing the basketball jersey I used to wear displayed on a wall, to the science class where I made my most amazing paper plane for aerospace class, to stepping foot in the hallway where I let my most legendary fart rip.

But when I think back on my return to my alma mater, it wasn’t the nostalgia that made the biggest impact on my heart. To my surprise, seeing what the school has transformed into, the teachers that drive it, and the students of today are what will leave the longest-lasting impression.

The world of today is not the world I grew up in. Back then, the school didn’t have the internet. Most adults at the time didn’t have a cellphone, versus now where many middle school kids have had a smartphone for years. 9/11 hadn’t happened yet. Our understanding of the world around us and the people that live in wasn’t as refined as it is now.

It warmed my heart to see that the school has evolved with the times on many fronts. The big message I took away as an outsider looking in was that the school system and the faculty are going above and beyond grooming kids to be book smart. They’re doing all they can to turn these kids into citizens of the world who will positively contribute to all aspects of society.

When I was around this age, I remember our teachers speaking up about the environment. However, it was mostly about making sure that we recycle and dispose of our waste appropriately. For the kids of today, the assignments pushed the kids way further. I saw multiple models where students were attempting to build their takes on a new world with an eye on sustainability. We’ll really need their help with the mess that’s being made right now by older generations that should know better.

Going a step beyond models, the school was taking a step towards making the world more sustainable in the immediate term. A pair of courtyards that have been long-dormant were about to be converted into spaces for birds and bee colonies. Leading by example on the bee issue sets such a great precedent for the students.

Towards the end of our tour, I noticed that the school had very few computers around. With students all now having their own tablets and laptops to do work, there was little need for public computers in most cases. That said, part of the library was converted to be a technical space, with computers, space for robotics, and even a green screen to facilitate video production. My old computer lab? Converted into a dance studio. Also, another part of the library was converted into a fitness room with exercise equipment. We didn’t have any exercise equipment when I was there.

In one hallway, murals of Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Malala Yousafzai, and Martin Luther King Jr. served as a nod to heroes who pushed for us to be better people. Can’t go wrong with any of those picks.

On an adjacent wall, the outlines for what I’m pretty sure is going to be a Drake mural were taking form. Say what you will about his music, but I love this choice. He’s a prime example of someone from our broader community that achieved the highest level of success in his field. The kids of the past decade have and will continue to look up to him. Even when his music goes out of style, his story as the Canadian kid that made it will always be an inspiration.

I also love that it’s an acknowledgement by the school of the outside world and what the kids love. I vividly remember being in music class, frustrated that our teacher refused to let us sing anything contemporary. Whether she hated our music or needed to stick to a strict curriculum, it made me less interested in class and in pursuing music.

Watching the current music teacher lead the students through modern music was a sight to behold. The students performed amazingly well and you could see how much they enjoyed the music they were playing. Afterwards, the school’s extracurricular DJ club provided the soundtrack to the carnival outside of the school, and they were better at picking songs and mixing tracks than many adult DJ’s I’ve seen at weddings and other events.

What warmed my heart the most was the school-wide push for equality. Every classroom was marked as an LGBTQ+ safe space with a prominent sticker on the front door. Signs with positive messages about caring and inclusivity were abound. One board in a hallway prominently featured celebrities who take an active role in pushing for equality.

At that age, I was completely naive to these matters. Though we had sex ed in school, there was nothing in my curriculum in middle school or high school about LGBTQ+. As those around me identified as LGBTQ+ in later years, I had to learn what that meant and how I could best support them. There are a lot of things I said or did out of ignorance back then that I totally regret now because I didn’t know any better.

How the school handles it now is so much better! It’s everywhere in the school all the time, which hopefully helps the kids of today become more inclusive sooner. There are many around me whose lives could have been vastly different had we grown up in this kind of environment from the start. I’m so glad to see the kids of today get that, and I’m hopeful that the faculty and the school system will continue to keep up with the times and continue to lead the kids in the right direction.

With how much has changed, it makes me wonder if I got a raw deal growing up, or if the teachers of my time were just as progressive as they could have been for the time. It’s probably the latter. It’s not too far back into history when kids stopped going to school when they were 12 so that they could work on the farm with their families. To the educators of yesterday and today who have and will continue to lead the students down the right path, I send my most sincerest of thanks.

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