A Thank You to Petaluma Junior High

Is there a time in a person’s life that is anymore awkward than the years in junior high?

The hormones firing inside the bodies of kids in junior high must look like the finale at a Fourth of July fireworks show, their individuality hasn’t emerged yet so the pressure to conform is huge, and they all want to act like seventeen and eighteen year-olds when they are only twelve and thirteen.

My high school senior loves to tease her eighth grade sister, Jennifer, about how all the girls in junior high look exactly alike: skinny jeans on 115 pound bodies, Aeropostale logo hoodies and long straight hair parted on the side.

And if you’ve ever picked up a kid at the junior high, you’re certain to see the girls posing with their cell phones, air-kissing their friends goodbye and the “I hate you, pay attention to me” drama between the girls and boys.

So later this week, when Jennifer moves from eighth grade to high school and we say goodbye to Petaluma Junior High for the last time, I want to thank the teachers and administration who did such a great job shepherding our kids through the challenging “wonder years.”

We have had three kids go through Petaluma Junior High and I think Mr. Lehmann did an excellent job of creating an environment in which the expectations are well established and the kids understood the boundaries. This always made the school feel very safe to me.

I know there are parents who will disagree, but I always appreciated that the school had a dress code that was actually enforced. The administration clearly explained what was appropriate to wear to school during a “fashion show” at student orientation in the fall: no tank tops, straps must be two inches wide and skirts or shorts must reach the bottom of your fingertips.

I always felt this set a high standard for the type of behavior that was expected. From what I have seen from years of picking up kids at the high school, girls will have plenty of opportunity to go to school dressed like a Pussy Cat Doll once they leave junior high.

Steve and I used to joke that the junior high had a lock-down feel to it because of the miles of chain link fence surrounding the campus; there’s only one way in and one way out. But as a parent, I’m glad that’s the way the school is run. There was never any doubt in my mind that the school administration knew the whereabouts of every one of the students.

I don’t recall any time that Jennifer participated in a school sponsored event that teachers and either the principal or vice-principal weren’t there to make sure that every student was accounted for. That’s a huge responsibility when you’re talking about a taking a couple of busloads of band students to perform at a San Francisco Giants game. When the buses pulled into the circle in front of PJHS well after midnight, there was Ms. Dunnagan, walkie-talkie in hand, helping Mr. Bailey unload buses and get every student matched up with a parent.

Junior high isn’t really a time in anybody’s life that they look back on with a great deal of nostalgia; instead it’s more just go through that awkward period and then move on to the more important high school experience. That may be the case, but next Friday, when we attend the eighth grade promotion ceremony, I will certainly be looking back with fondness and appreciation for the time my kids were at PJHS.

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