In the American educational system, "middle school" is between elementary school and high school, and roughly defined by the 10-13 age group. Some school systems completely lack this level, running elementary school to sixth grade and starting high school or "secondary school" at seventh grade; in other places, it's called junior high. The most common grade assignments seem to be 6th-8th grades, but arrangements exist that use virtually any 2-4 year subset of 5th-9th grades that includes at least seventh grade.

Middle school is a traumatic experience (or, more simply, hell) for most kids. There are two major changes that cause most of these problems: the adjustment to a class-shifting schedule, and puberty.

Let's tackle class-shifting first. In elementary school, a child is assigned to one homeroom ("Mrs. So-and-so's class") where he/she spends the majority of the day. For special subjects like physical education and music, the entire class is marched off to that teacher's room together. Usually by fourth or fifth grade, mathematics will be broken off into a separate class assignment based on academic achievement, so the class will split up for perhaps one hour a day. Students still primarily identify with their respective homerooms, though. This all changes in middle school: students move from class to class, spending 45 minutes to an hour in each single-subject class, and with totally different people in many classes. It takes kids some time to adjust to this task-switching and lack of a "home" within the academic environment.

Puberty is the other fun part. Each child gets his or her blast of hormones at a different time; dealing with this(or, rather, learning by spectacularly failing to deal with this) is what makes middle school painful. Cliques form and re-form at the drop of a hat; bodies are changing in new and sometimes scary ways (says the 1950s instructional filmstrip), and no one knows quite how to deal with those mysterious people on the other side of the gym floor at a dance. "Dating" can last a whole day and be one of the longer "relationships" among a particular peer group.

The only positive part of middle school for most students is the knowledge that high school is coming, and it can't possibly be worse than what they're dealing with now.

I was diagnosed with ADHD in the third grade; and I have always thought it a bit absurd. It’s not as though the average Third Grader has perfect attentiveness anyway. Nonetheless, from this point on I was prescribed myriad pills to focus my attention on the class. I found that the chief effects of Ritalin and Adderall were: an increased focus on my ability to draw and otherwise distract myself during class, and substantially increased anxiety as the drugs were leaving my system. After being taken off the pills in the 7th Grade, these features disappeared almost entirely.

It was difficult to feel an active participant of my Middle School community. This was because of both the eclectic student base, and because of the hyper-optimistic atmosphere that the school propagated. Crockett Middle School has a student population of over 2,000. A large amount of the students here come from impoverished homes in Trenton; and those who are not, are middle-class white Protestants. The racial and economical gap between these two groups of people is the source of great social segregation. Even more, the school hosted lots of anti-drug and anti-gang campaigns targeted at the students from Trenton, which were extremely depressing and bewildering to those of us who had never been exposed to such things before.

Health class was a physiological horrorshow which taught us about diabetes, anorexia and it's sister bulimia, coathanger abortions, psychedelic drugs, and sexually transmitted diseases. All of these were reinforced by graphic movies. The psychological result of these things on me was extreme social stigma; they were all smelted together into one heinous group of personality flaws which only the most pathetic of people would develop. For the school, I feel that this is not the most effective teaching method; however, I cannot attest to its effect on those who deal with such problems on a daily basis.

Drug overdose and gang violence were further highlighted by really stellar all-school assemblies. Keynote speakers included an ER physician who taught us about the horrors of activated charcoal purging, a real-life gang member who was still in prison, more drug counsellors who insisted that anyone who tried MDMA would overdoes immediately. Miscellaneous sensitivity counsellors who preached racial equality among students fell on ears deafened by the school’s intense social segregation.

And so, I could not find my own place in the school’s social circles. I wasn’t cool enough to find acceptance in any skater cliques, and was too haughty to allow myself to be assimilated into any geek culture; this is despite the fact that I was designing videogames in elementary school and had no basis for social interaction whatsoever. I eventually became labelled as a “weird kid”, whose social status could hardly be measured by any scale due to its complete social irrelevance.

Because I had no friends with whom I could comfortably confide in, I always turned to my mother and the internet for solace. Mom was particularly comforting during the outbursts of anxiety I experienced when taking amphetamines for ADHD, even though she could not offer any intellectual reassurance: my anxiety was not based on any justifiable troubles. After I stopped taking these pills, I still was anxious much of the time due to many of the troubles that one experiences during pubescence: sexual attraction, angst, social rebellion, et al. I spoke with people in chat rooms online about these things.

Thus, I survived the 7th grade without any real friends to confide in.

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