The Middle School Girl



I once spoke with a young lady about a boy she was interested in. I asked her how open she was talking about boys with her mom and dad, and her response took me by surprise. She said, “ Well, you already know that my mom don’t play, but my daddy said that he doesn’t care if I date boys now, just as long as I’m not kissing on any girls…. you know…. cuz my sister is gay or whatever, and he don’t like that.” I was speechless for a second because I didn’t expect that response. I actually met this young lady a year prior to this conversation in a middle school hallway. She was dancing down the hall, singing at the top of her lungs with her tongue hanging out of her mouth. I didn’t know this young lady very well just yet, but I knew that she frequented the principal’s office for fighting other boys. I stopped as I watched her in the hallway and called for her to come over. I leaned in and said, “you are a beautiful young lady with class, and I need for you to remember that.” She smiled at me, and her facial expression showed me that she knew she wasn’t actually being very classy in that moment. Then she continued down the hall to class.

This first interaction was so powerful that as I got to know her, she began to confide in me and listen to the advice I had to give. She sought me out whenever she was upset, and I became a positive influence while she was at school. I listened to her issues with other teachers and peers while also showing her when she was in the wrong. She talked to me about other boys she was interested in, but I couldn’t help but be bothered by her sense of accomplishment  when certain boys took an interest in her. I wanted her to realize that she was supposed to see herself as a prized possession. Just like this young lady, so many young girls don’t seem to understand their potential and worth. They become distracted by other young boys who don’t seem to have a clear understanding of what respect should really look like.

Understanding this about young ladies and young boys in school is key to meeting them where they are academically so that they can learn and push toward their potential. The education of all students is important to me, but before I try to meet them where they are cognitively and academically, I have to understand where they are emotionally and socially. The education of the middle school girl, especially, can be very complex when she wants to be successful but doesn’t understand the barriers that block her. As her body goes through changes and romances come into play, it can be a real struggle trying to establish her identity. She tries to do this all while maintaining a social scene. On top of this, she is expected to sit in class, maintain focus and learn. During this time period, she tries to differentiate between positive and negative influences in her community, home, school and media sources.

As educators, parents, counselors, mentors and coaches for young ladies, we have to take all of this into consideration when trying to guide them to success. In the end, that’s really all that we want from them.

(photo: Michael Stravato from Education Week)

StephStephanie Granderson is a community advocate driven by her passion for education. Though she was raised in Richmond, Virginia, much of her cultural background comes from Trinidad and Tobago, where most of her family was born. As a first generation citizen and college graduate, she aspires to motivate her students to be successful just as others have done for her. While attending the University of Richmond, she was able to connect what she was learning in her classes about social inequalities with her experience volunteering in various schools and non-profits. Part of her experience was AT Higher Achievement, where she had the opportunity to teach math and mentor students in under-resourced communities.  After graduation, she continued to serve Richmond through VCU’s AmeriCorps program where she tutored first and second graders to establish a stronger foundation in reading. She continues to tutor students in math, from kindergarten all the way up to calculus,
part-time after working at a middle school with students who have special needs in the City of Richmond. Stephanie loves to knit, dance, eat sushi, and practice speaking Spanish whenever she has the opportunity.