Dear Middle Schooler,
I have known students your age for many years as a counselor, as a principal, as a volunteer, and as a mom. All your creativity, intelligence and absolute authenticity amazes me. You are at a powerful age, this is the time you are entirely in charge of deciding who you are going to be!
However, too often I see your peers unaware of how impactful and important you are. I also know sometimes your age can feel lonely and it can be easy to believe that you are powerless — in spite of counselors, principals, police officers, advocates and other people believing in you as much as I do. So I wanted to share this with you. I hope you will find our advice helpful.
- “It’s okay to do what feels right for you, even if it’s not what people seem to want or expect from you. It is valuable to be curious about the experiences and perspectives of others, but at the end of the day, you are the only one who gets to decide who you are and what is important to you.” -Emily Berry, Counselor for Teens and Adults.
- “I wish you all of the courage that you can muster. You’ll need it, greatly. I hope you realize that because of the way your age, race, and your gender intersect, adults and peers expect you to think, act, perform, and behave in certain ways that can silence, stifle, and harm the amazing facets dwelling within from shining through. You have probably experienced this already. Your job is to work with your friends to find the courage to maneuver around these labels and constantly try to shake off the negative expectations that hold you and others back from realizing your special potential.” — Dr. Roderick L. Carey is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Center for Urban Education at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education.
- “Nobody is made the same and nobody is like you. What I want students to know most about creativity, is that you are the representation of it. You are the example of creative energy inside of you which comes out in your speech, your clothing, the way you style your hair, the books you read, and the people you engage with. Never let anyone stifle your personal creativity and never let anyone tell you that you are not different. Different is what makes you…. You.” -Ashlee McKinnon, Dance Educator at Capital City Public Charter School
- Have hope. “What I most hope you know is that people will throw walls up at you at every turn. If you are part of the wall then your voice for change can weaken the foundation on which it is laid, and over time, the wall will fall. If you are outside of the wall, your voice for change can poke holes in the wall and, with strength from others, can blow a gaping hole through which a path can emerge. What I most hope you do is build paths between people, question the walls built, and work toward understanding those who are pathfinders and those who are wall builders. By ‘seeking to first understand, then be understood’ (Stephen Covey) you will be a catalyst for positive change in our world.”- Wilson Felter, Head of Middle School Penn Charter
- “You are starting to find your own voices, which makes you the perfect champions and change agents for diversity and inclusion initiatives in your spheres of influence (your schools, teams, families, churches and communities). If we provide student leaders with basic fundamentals, create a safe environment for them to express themselves, and get out of their way, amazing things can happen!” -Alkia B. Jones Diversity and Inclusion champion in corporate and academic settings.
- “I would most like you to know that your identity is not a set of boxes to check, once and for all, or even a color-by-number painting. Your identity is a constantly evolving work of art unique to you, and it is stunningly beautiful.” Kiri Harris, Middle School Dean Greene Street Friends School.
- Oscar Wilde famously said, “Be yourself; everybody else is already taken.” If you want to contribute to the beautiful diversity of the world, don’t bother copying anybody else. You can bring something unique to the world only by bringing the person you’re supposed to be!- Peter Braverman, Founder Arc Professional Development and Former Middle School Head
- “I would most like you to know that supporting one another is of utmost importance. Especially for girls. Friendship should not be about competing with one another or feeling like you have power over someone else. Friendship is not about having someone fear you or follows your orders. Female friendship should be about mutual respect, shared interests, and loyalty. It is nice to have someone lift you up when you’re feeling down but is even more important to have someone who will celebrate you when you are at your best. That is a sign of a true friend.” -Lauren Keller, Middle School Counselor at Bullis School
- “What I most hope you know about being a Middle School boy is that at all times there will be others facing similar challenges as you. You may have no idea that a peer is feeling the same way, but understand and please believe that you are not alone.” Dana Harrison, Head of Newtown Friends School
- “In my 48 years of living I have had 8 different jobs and until I became a police officer I did not realize that every job along the way prepared me for the duties I perform daily. Life’s journeys are many, all leading to one point.”- Pet Speight, Montgomery County, MD Police Office
- “Listening helps others find their voice and gives more weight to your own.”- Montanna Wilson, Middle School Head St. Paul’s School for Girls
Despite the messages you may get from media or even the people in your life, I hope you know you have the power to decide who you will be. This decision should be an active, intentional decision and it should be yours. This decision should celebrate your uniqueness and the uniqueness of others which will serve to unify people in ways many adults have been unable to do. Be willing to make mistakes and be open to learning from them. Be willing to ask for help and to offer help to others. Most of all, be you, there is no one better anywhere than exactly who you are! — Jen Cort, Jen Cort Educational Consulting.
Bio: Jen Cort’s educational passion is creating safe spaces for kids to be seen and heard at all times while learning to use their voices and be visible in ways that work for them. She is able to help schools in this work through her years of experience as a Division Head of an independent school clinical social worker, school counselor and author. Jen is also an Ashoka Empathy Ambassador. You could read more about her work on her website.