Watkinson to Host Panel Discussion in West Hartford on ‘Myths and Realities’ of Middle School Years

Courtesy of Watkinson School

The forum ‘Middle School Years: Myths, Realities, and What a Parent Can Do’ will be held at The Children’s Museum in West Hartford on Oct. 16.

By Ronni Newton

Watkinson School has convened a panel of experts who will share their thoughts and respond to questions about raising and guiding middle schoolers through what many deem the “tumultuous years” of sixth through eighth grade.

The panelists include neuropsychologist Gary Isenberg, Ph.D.; retired educator and middle school head Martha Brackeen-Harris; and University of Saint Joseph professor of human development and family studies Patrick Nickoletti, Ph.D. Watkinson Head of School Teri Schrader will facilitate the panel discussion, which will focus on “how to navigate the special opportunities, challenges, and joy of middle schoolers.”

One topic to be addressed is the fact that parents, as well as students, exhibit anxiety about middle school.

Parents worry about the increased expectation of middle school,” said Isenberg, who added that educators have an important role in managing that. “Good schools know this and are teaching their students about these expectations, not expecting students to walk in knowing them.”

Parents often ask, “How will my child be cared for?” Isenberg said. “Explaining to parents that the frontal lobe isn’t developed isn’t helpful. Telling them how we deal with that is what’s helpful.”

Among parents, there is also a fear of, ‘How my child will be received?'” said Nickoletti. “There are a lot of stereotypes about adolescents and early adolescents … there are developmental norms for abilities and vulnerabilities … there are a lot of themes generated by the media that are untrue.”

Brackeen-Harris noted that some concerns among parents arise because students go from having one primary teacher to many teachers. “Parents are concerned about who will really know their child,” she said.

The panelists agree that developmentally – physically and mentally – there is a wide range among middle schoolers.

“Being a teen or a pre-teen is not a diagnosable condition,” said Isenberg.

“‘Normal’ is a huge place,” noted Schrader.

Just like with babies and toddlers, middle schoolers hit milestones at different times. “All kids are different. Saying ‘By now, a child should be doing this …’ isn’t helpful,” said Brackeen-Harris. “Don’t compare your children.”

That advice was echoed by Nickoletti, who said that even as college students, “people are at different places of intensity and understanding.”

Watkinson Communications Director Jenni French said the tone of the panel discussion is intended to be positive – not a conversation about the misery of the middle school years. “It is very clear to me that all four of these accomplished experts have a profound respect for middle schoolers and the curiosity and joy they exude,” she said.

Schrader hopes to include discussion of how a good school supports “rich, safe learning” during the middle school years, and how parents can best support their children. 

The panel discussion “Middle School Years: Myths, Realities, and What a Parent Can Do” will be held from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 16, at the Children’s Museum, 950 Trout Brook Dr., West Hartford.

The evening will begin with a chance for guests to mingle while enjoying hors d’oeuvres, wine, and soft drinks between 5:30-6 p.m. The panel discussion will take place from 6-7 p.m., followed by additional time to mix and mingle and continue discussion with other attendees.

    Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online here

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