Fumbling Toward Belonging: Are Middle Schoolers the Same Everywhere?

[L]ooking around the room, I see many familiar faces. I see the athlete all the girls will love in a few years, though now he’s a little shy and prefers to run with his hair flying in the wind. Next to him is his awkward, overweight, and rather nerdy friend, loyal to a fault and trying to keep up. Across the room are several other boys, the popular crowd: fun and good looking, sought out by others. And, of course, there are others as well: the boy who looks like puberty is still years away, and the other one whose body is well into the process but whose mind may never catch up.

And there are the girls. On my left is the power group: the tall, attractive girls who look several years older than any other kid in the room, though they’re not. Confident and insecure at the same time. A few seats to my right are several smaller and rather awkward girls, the ones who haven’t yet grown out of the slight layer of “baby fat” that still pads their young bodies. Scattered around the room are a few others who don’t quite have a niche of their own yet. All of them clearly wrestling with what it means to be caught between child and woman.

I know these kids. And I know them well. But I’ve never been here before.

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