Suspicious Middle School Gatherings

Part of spending time with middle schoolers is always being on the alert for the unusual and unexpected. Bottom line: Sometimes middle school students do things that are either ill-conceived ventures into the land of stupidity, or they mastermind schemes to create unpleasantness for others in the immediate and themselves in the aftermath of the investigation.

It’s no different for a lot of adults. Recently, a Michigan friend of ours had his mobile pizza oven trailer stolen. The thief then tried to sell it on Facebook Marketplace, providing his contact info along with the picture of the stolen property. In case you didn’t add two and two together with that info, let me just tell you: He was caught! He must have missed taking that course in his growing up years called Common Sense.

Back to just-arriving teens! There have been situations this year in which one or more students have committed acts of mischief. I won’t go into specifics, but a number of the head-shaking acts have occurred in the school restrooms. After all, it is one of the only areas in the school building that does not have security cameras. However, it doesn’t take a Columbo to narrow down the suspects after an episode of toilet paper destruction, because there are security cameras in the hallways that display who goes in and out of the facilities. Narrowing down the time of the infractions slims down the list of possible offenders.

So as a teacher in this interesting incubator of growing-up pains and possibilities, I’ve developed eyes for seeing the unusual and an intuition for anticipating the unexpected.

However, sometimes my senses and eyes deceive me and my hope in the younger generation gets raised from six-feet-under to several hundred feet in the sky.

It happened last week. In the time following a state assessment testing day, the whole eighth-grade class was rewarded with being able to spend the last hour of the school day, complete with fantastic weather, outside. The herd headed to the westside pasture of the school grounds to release their pent up energy from the restricted movements of the testing day. My senses were raised to red alert status, watching for the drastic transitions that could take place between a testing day of showing their intelligence to an open air display of ignorance.

A number of students were playing a game of football, another group were bumping a volleyball around their circle, and others were involved in a game of Wall Ball. But then there was a group of 12-15 students who were sitting by the fence on the far side of the field, huddled together. It looked suspicious with several red flags raised in my mind: keeping their distance from everyone else, huddled closely together, and not making any noise.


I walked toward them, quietly approaching, like I see the actors on Chicago PD do. No one noticed me as the group’s attention remained fixed on whatever illegal activity they were in the midst of. I crept all the way up and peered over the enclosed students to see how much trouble they were going to be in. Just as I got to the viewpoint where I could see the innermost part of the circle and who the ringleaders were, I heard the words.


And then I saw it: a chessboard sitting in the midst of the group, like a miniature battlefield of competition featuring knights, bishops, and royalty.

“Mr. Wolfe,” yelled the game winner and one of my students, “you ready to play me?”

I smiled. “Not yet, but soon!” and I walked away from the group, my pessimism pounced on and my optimism taken to new heights.

In a world and time when we hear an an abundance of the negative, there is another side. It may be all the way to the other side of the field or in the last minute of the nightly newscast, but there is another thing happening. And that “thing” is the hopeful message of the youthful generation to the cynicism of our times.

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