District 97 is beefing up its social services staff at the middle schools because of a spike in the numbers of kids with serious mental health issues: rich kids, poor kids, in-between kids. I wonder why so many kids, why now?

Is it pressure alone? I remember hearing a group of seventh-grade boys standing on a corner comparing their GPAs (grade point averages). At the time I felt sad. I figured boys that age were competitive and would be talking about sports or TV or cute girls. It made me sad that their academic accomplishments were being measured at such an early age, and more, that they were so conscious of it.

Is it bullying? I think I only moved once in grades K-8, so I went to school with the same kids for most of those years. It had a lot of pluses. Sure, there are cliques — I guess there always will be — but familiarity cuts down on hostility. After several years together, everyone knows who’s smart, who’s not, who’s pretty, who’s rich, who’s poor, etc. I think familiarity breeds acceptance. It didn’t hurt to go to a religious school (although I’m a heathen now) because being mean to others was at least a venial sin.

Maybe the whole concept of middle school is a mistake — a worthy and understandable one — probably based on good research, but still a mistake. I have a huge commitment to public education, but I’m wondering whether the older K-8 model might work better. 

The concept of better facilities, a richer curriculum, more and more diverse opportunities is realized by combining smaller schools, but are kids ready for all that? Where’s the joy? At some point, if you pursue higher education, schooling becomes a grind, but that shouldn’t happen to preteens.

Mary Kay O’Grady

Oak Park

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