NEW ALBANY, Ohio — Middle school can be a challenging time for kids. Just ask Donna LeBeau, principal at New Albany Middle School and an educator in central Ohio for more than 30 years.
“They’re the most fabulous children in the whole wide world,” LeBeau said with a slight chuckle. “One minute they think you're everything and the next minute they're like, 'Sure you're just horrible.'”
LeBeau said middle school kids, normally between 11 and 13 years old, are exploring new buildings, new friends and new hormones.
“One day they're coming home and playing Barbies and they don't want any of their friends to know,” LeBeau explains. “Or they're rolling their trucks. And the next day, they're on TikTok.”
Tucker Smith is entering the sixth grade at New Albany. While he won’t be moving to a new building, he said he’s excited about the new responsibility of growing up.
“Next year is our first year with flex in our schedule,” said Smith as he explained the tough choice to make between band or choir. “My mom told me, 'You have to be careful with what you decide, like later down the road you could end up not liking the elective you chose,' and I don’t think you can switch.”
Bobby Worthington said he’s quickly learning how middle school will be and is trying to find the strength to stand up to peer pressure.
“Everyone at my lunch table said we were doing choir next year, and I’m doing band,” he said with a smirk. “One of the things they taught us with peer pressure is to just walk away, basically.”
LeBeau said that for students this age, fitting in is very important.
"It's super important for kids to have somebody that they know that if the teacher says, ‘Find a partner,’ that they have somebody they can do that with," LeBeau said.
For 12-year-old Sami Secrest, her biggest fear is finding her way around the lunchroom.
“In this new building, all the seventh graders have lunch with each other and all the eighth graders have lunch with each other,” Secrest said. “I don’t know if I’ll see my friends with all the seventh graders.”
LeBeau said that’s a common concern among middle schoolers who will be transitioning from cohort learning to something larger.
“We're trying different things,” LeBeau said with excitement. “I'm going to be in Student Council, I’m going to try Power of the Pen, I'm going to try Math Counts, I’m going to try Science Olympiad, I’m going to run cross country,” she said, listing the many new electives from which middle schoolers can choose.
Sami said she is looking forward to choosing what she also does not want to do.
“You don’t have to do an elective, it’s your choice if you have to, and also you get to choose a language, which I didn’t do,” she said. “I’m going to do more art, stagecraft and just art in general.”
LeBeau said middle school is a time for exploration, emphasizing how parents can also prepare for middle school by listening to their children’s wants and needs.
“I would say, make sure that you are listening and that you remember that their brains are not fully developed and that your love is unconditional,” LeBeau said.