A Day in the Life of a Seventh Grader

On Wednesday, August 31st, Mr. Connell spent the day as a 7th grader.  From early room through football practice, Mr. Connell had the unique perspective of experiencing a “day in the life” of a middle school student at Donoho.  Here are his reflections of the day:

I got the idea of shadowing a student this summer while we were building the schedule for the 22-23 school year.  The process of scheduling classes each summer forces us to look at the flow of the school day from different perspectives, chiefly that of our students and teachers.  On paper, it seems that we have a good schedule, one that flows nicely with breaks in intentional spots for both our students and our faculty, but unless you experience it first-hand, how would you know?  Having been a full-time English teacher at Donoho for years, I understood the faculty’s perspective, but I’ve never fully experienced the student’s perspective.  To that end, I committed myself to taking off my administrator’s hat and putting on the hat of a 7th grader, but first, I had to have a schedule.  In designing my day, I followed the exact same process that all 7th graders follow, I filled out a course selection sheet.  My schedule would have the requisite classes, Pre-Algebra, English 7, Science 7, History 7, Humanities 7, and a study hall, and the two electives I took were band and art.  With my schedule in hand, my day began, and what follows is my experience:

Early Room: arrived at 7:47 a.m.  Everyone looked at me funny.  I’m in 7th grade attire, which means Nikes, shorts, and a t-shirt.  I’m mildly concerned if my socks are “pushed down enough.”  My daughter, who is a junior at Donoho, said I looked like a nerd with them “pulled up too high” before I left the house.  As I walked into the middle school, I was reminded by my fellow classmates to turn in my cell phone to the office before school started or I would “get in trouble”!  Before the day began, I’m already hit with a major obstacle!  I turn my phone into the office, and here we go.

1st Period: Science 7 started off great when a fellow 7th grader named Taylor came up to me at the start of the class to ask if I wanted a sticker.  She produced several sheets of stickers.  I selected Cyborg from Teen Titans Go! and put it on my shirt.  It was such a kind gesture, and it made my heart smile to be immediately included in the group. The lesson of the day was a lab designed to demonstrate the scientific method.  My lab partners and I worked together to determine the hypothesis, dependent, and independent variables of the experiment.  I enjoyed the hands-on, experiential learning.  It was helpful to talk through the problem with others.  It seemed like we were just getting started when the bell rang, and it was time to transition to math!

2nd Period: Pre-Algebra wasn’t all that it could have been, simply because Mr. Holley was out sick.  As an administrator, I always enjoy stopping into his class to observe his lessons.  He has such a gentle manner of being with his students.  Patience and teaching math go GREAT together!  It was fun to work with my buddy Aiden on the day’s assignment, which was subtracting on a number line.  I learned that using an eBook has its advantages and disadvantages.  Some of my classmates were still working through the kinks of logging in, and it was awesome to see students who had been able to successfully log in jump in and help our classmates.  Mr. Holley, though at home sick, was able to Zoom in and review with us, which was so nice.  It was cool to experience our new classroom tvs in action to connect him with the class even though he was at home. 

Break: My new friends walked with me from math to the cafetorium, and we got in line at Donoho Joe.  I was in much need of an iced coffee!  The upper school SGA members who were  working at the coffee shop were surprised to see me in my t-shirt and shorts.  With my vanilla iced coffee in hand (emphasis on the coffee), my classmates and I headed back to the middle school building.  I was only a few sips in when I was told that Ms. Jackson didn’t allow drinks in her class!  Thankfully, they were pulling my leg.  

3rd Period: Nothing like walking into a class and being told, “Clear your desks…we’re about to start the quiz!”  I still have nightmares about that scenario from college.  Thankfully, this quiz was on subjects and predicates, and since I’ve taught that class before, I felt pretty good about it!  It was a truly unique and humbling experience to sit there and work through a quiz again!  I felt really good about all but one question (there’s always that one question).  

4th Period: History 7 was a BLAST because we were working in groups again.  The assignment was to produce a newsreel of events surrounding World War II.  Students had to research topics about the war and present a two-minute radio news feature on their event.  A goal of the assignment was to build in the “listening” experience that audiences would have had as they sat around the radio getting updates from the front during WW2.  Today was presentation day, so all of the heavy lifting of research had already been done by my group members.  My group tasked me to provide the sound effects for our event, the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  We used the in-class microphones and speaker systems that were recently installed, and we CRUSHED it!  As a student, I learned a lot, but more importantly, I had a ball!  As an administrator, I was very impressed with Mrs. Whisenant’s building in collaborative learning in such a fun, meaningful, and engaging way.  

5th Period: Part of this experience for me was to select electives that I wish I would have taken more advantage of when I was in school.  I’ve admired the work that Mrs. Olivas has done with our students ever since she joined our fine arts department, so I had to take her 3D art class.  The trek from the middle school building to the fine arts building wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  Mainly because it was a beautiful, sunny day, and I had my new buddies to walk and talk with!  Once we arrived to art, Mrs. O. greeted us with a smile and invited us to place all of our belongings at the front of the room.  She has a killer playlist that she plays in the background, by the way!  Once again, I was placed in a group, and the goal of the assignment was to create large papier-mâché sculptures of common, everyday items–3D pop art sculptures!  My group’s item was a football helmet.  The group had already gathered images of a helmet from different angles and perspectives.  Our next task was to build the base.  To do this, we had to sketch out the template on a large piece of paper that we created by taping regular pieces of 8”x11” printer paper together.  From there, we transitioned the template to the ground where we laid it over a large piece of cardboard.  Next, Mrs. O. guided us in the proper, safe technique for using an art knife.  Finally, we carefully took turns cutting out our cardboard base.  Other items that were being crafted in the class were: a Croc (yes, a shoe), a boombox, and sunglasses.  I can’t wait to see how they all end up!    

Lunch: After art, my buddies and I went to lunch.  I brought my lunch (leftovers), so I had a friend join me in the microwave room for small talk while we heated up lunch.  It was nice to see other students just hanging out and visiting with one another while waiting for their food to heat up.  I sat with my new friends at lunch and then, when lunch ended, it was time to head back to the middle school for humanities class.

6th Period: In humanities, Mrs. Burrage informed me that they were working on Latin translations.  I’ve never taken a Latin class in my life, so I was very interested in seeing how this would go!  I don’t know if it’s her manner of teaching or what, but I gotta say, in a short time, things were starting to click for me!  The passage that we were translating was titled “In the Garden.”  In this passage, two Roman boys, Marcus and Sextus, were playing in the garden, but they were being a bit rowdy and rambunctious, and in the process of playing, they knocked over a statute, which falls into the fish pond, much to the chagrin of Davus, the slave.  Riveting, I know.  But, the point is, when you experience the teaching of Latin, you quickly identify sentence patterns and words that we use today in English!  Moreover, as so many of our English words have derived from Latin, the study of Latin is a terrific boost for vocabulary and reading comprehension.       

7th Period: So, with 7th period I had the opportunity to take my second elective of the day.  I had the following choices when I was building my schedule: band, choir, PE, American history through film, organic gardening, and computer coding.  What some may not know is that I am a drummer.  I play the drums in my praise band at church.  I also think that Benjie Bess is one of the nicest guys on our campus.  So, it was a no-brainer that I would select band as my second elective of the day.  When the bell rang to end 6th period, my band friends and I commenced the hike back to the fine arts building.  On the way, I asked them, “So, what are we doing in band?”  The response, “We’re reading music.”  Well, I’ve never had a drumming lesson before in my life, so the prospect of “reading music” was a bit daunting for me.  Nonetheless, I worked through the lesson with my band mates, and we sounded good!  The way everyone picked it up was astounding!  The Donoho band program is in great hands with the young talent that we have under the tutelage of Mr. Bess.

8th Period: Study hall.  Whew.  An 8th period study hall is a nice capper to the day.  It gave me a moment to pause and reflect on the events of the day.  I can honestly appreciate how valuable this opportunity is for our students as they get started on their homework, plan out their afternoons, or contemplate where they will head for tutorial when the 3:05 bell rings.  It’s awesome that all students have a study hall in their schedule. 

After School: This is when the day got interesting.  When I planned to shadow a 7th grader, it was important to me that I gather the entire experience, and this included the experience of those who play football.  I remember telling Coach Satcher that I would be attending practice as a 7th grader, and he replied, with a slight smile, “Ok, I got you.”  Something about the way he said that gave me pause.  “Coach, you know, I’m gonna be a 7th grader that day, so…you know, just treat me like you would a 7th grader.”  He replied, with the same smile, “I got you.”  Something didn’t feel right in that exchange, but I was committed regardless.  

So, after school, I walked with my football buddies to the locker room.  Coach Satcher greeted me with shoulder pads and a helmet.  Ben, a senior who has an injury, was nice enough to loan me his cleats.  I knew I might be in trouble when coach handed me a mouthguard.  “Coach, I don’t need this.  We’re not hitting or anything, right?”  “Take it,” he said.  If I thought I might be in trouble when coach handed me the mouthguard, I knew I was in trouble when I got winded lacing up my cleats!  

Hot.  It was so hot at practice.  After the pre-practice stretching, I was sweating a storm.  Coach yelled, “Ok, let’s go!  Move!  O-line!  Let’s go!!!”  I asked, “Coach, where do you want me to go?”  He yelled in response, “You’re #75!  Get over there with the O-line!”  O-line?  I have never thought to use “O-line” as a descriptor of myself.  I’m not “o-line” material.  Nonetheless, off to the o-line group I jogged.  Things went from bad to worse when I participated in 2-on-1 blocking drills, and I was the 1.  The practice didn’t last too long for me.  I remember seeing stars and needing to tap out for a few.  I’m almost 50 for pete’s sake and consider surviving a 30-minute Peloton ride a colossal success.  

Thankfully, I had a legitimate excuse for bowing out of practice.  Even though I spent the day pretending to be a 7th grader, in reality, I remain a director of the middle and upper school, and it was a 5:30 Intersession Parent Meeting that saved me from certain death at practice.  A quick shower in the gym and I transformed from a 7th grader back to an adult.

Reflection:  During my shadow day, I didn’t only attend classes.  I recorded my observations on the following:

  • Happenings in the hallways as I moved throughout my day
  • Student lockers
  • Classrooms
  • Restrooms
  • Student interactions
  • Teacher interactions.

People have asked me, “Why did you do this?”  The most important piece of our school is our students.  I wanted to do this because I believe it’s important to live the experience of those for which you are responsible.  I wanted to see the school day through the lens of our students.  I wanted to experience what they experience in its entirety from early room through afternoon practice.  I wanted to experience our schedule–a schedule that we work so hard on each summer–to see what it’s really like for our students.  Does it “work”?  Is it fair?  Although it seems to work on paper, there is only one way to truly confirm it, and that’s to live it.

Having lived it, I can say that it works.  Is it perfect, no, but it works for us.  The time spent in each class hits the sweet spot in terms of focus for both our teachers and our students.  Sure, we could all use more time in the day, but I feel good with what we have.  All in all, I am very pleased with the skills that our students are gaining in middle school.  The opportunities for them to participate in effective communication, experiential learning, collaboration, problem-solving, and more will lay the foundation for success in the grades to come and beyond. 

Empathy: Perhaps the greatest takeaway I have from this experience deals with empathy.  Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”  I would argue that our world needs more empathy.  Having been a part of the Donoho family for many years, I had a good idea of what it’s like to be a Donoho student, but this experience strengthened and informed my understanding.  What I can tell you is that our students do a lot.  They are challenged in the classroom and on the stage and field.  Yet, this is all done in an environment of care and support.  Our teachers are professionals, and our students are kind.  The typical day of a 7th grader is a busy day, and it’s a day filled with opportunities, challenges, grace, laughter, and support.  

But perhaps the greatest takeaway from this experience lies in that moment on the practice field when I saw stars.  In many ways it’s a metaphor for the entire experience–for life.  It’s easy to be a boo bird, to be critical of a person or a program or a team, but when you suit up and give it a try, it’s not so easy.  I know.  Because I’ve done it, and that’s the essence of empathy.