The boy wearing the tie is a full head-and-a-half taller than the guy standing next to him along the black line of the gym floor. The girl down the row stares self-consciously at the ground, her arms crossed in front of her. Another, grinning broadly with a mouth full of braces, holds up her certificate so that her dad in the audience can take a cell phone photo.
The awkward unpredictability of the so-called "middle years" is on full display in Bexley Middle School's gym. Young people exerting their separateness, while doing almost anything to blend in ... or not. Acting like 4-year-olds one minute and full-fledged grown-ups the next. As most adults remember from their own early teens, these are turbulent times.
All of that is roiling around early on a Friday morning when the school community of students, teachers, parents and friends gathers to mark accomplishments and milestones at the end of the first semester of the year.
But something else is at play as well: acceptance, mutual support, humor, respect.
The students clap and whistle for one another. Music specialist Alex Brough calls on a young saxophonist who has been chosen for the Ohio State University Honor Band. The student musician stands and shyly acknowledges the classmates applauding to his left and right. He nods as he takes in his moment in the spotlight.
The entire seventh-grade girls' basketball team lines up and each member introduces herself as a microphone is passed down the row. The team captain pledges to "Beat Academy, next time."
One of the wrestlers heads back to his seat in the bleachers, exchanging an elaborate 15-second high-five with staffer Heath Goolsby on his way up.
The school's Assistant Principal, Jason Caudill, surveys the scene with pride, a smile on his face. At one point, realizing his notes are missing parts of the honor roll list, he walks down the row of students before him and, placing a hand on each shoulder, names from memory each recognized for a 4.0 grade-point average. When he falters on a couple -- because "these guys are never in my office," he says, to laughter -- a chorus of student voices prompts him.
In this space, on this morning, the care, concern and attention, the sense of high expectations is palpable.
"Our goal is to have every kid up there for something, whether it's grades, a club, a sport," Caudill said.
Parent/guardians of Bexley sixth-graders will soon attend an orientation about the middle school experience. This particular transition is fraught with anxiety for all concerned -- how will I fit in? Is my student ready to be on his own? How will her social life change as she leaves the elementary school she's known for seven years? Is he ready for more responsibility?
I urge these newcomers to Bexley Middle School to settle in for the ride.
Yes, your middle years children will change dramatically in these two short years, they will confound and test you ... but they are in good hands.
Amy Thompson is the public information coordinator for the Bexley City Schools.