News, Notes & Inside Info from a Children’s Book Author

Essential Listening: “Middle School” as featured on THIS AMERICAN LIFE

November 12th, 2011 Posted in Around the Web, In the Classroom

It’s been a busy month, with many school visits and almost no real writing. On Sunday, tomorrow, I’m heading to South Carolina, a trip that begins with three presentations in a middle school. So I thought I’d share my highest recommendation with you.

Listen to This American Life: Middle School. Trust me, it’s terrific. Smart, insightful, poignant, funny, heartbreaking. Really, I mean it. This is brilliant and you have must, must, must give it a listen.

Seventh-graders at a costume dance, dressed

as characters from The Outsiders.

To listen to the show, you have a couple of options. You can go here, for free, to hear the show in its entirety. Or you can catch up on all the old episodes of “This American Life” on iTunes for only 99 cents each. The “Middle School” segment originally aired in late October. Here’s some background info, as provided by WBEZ:

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Middle School

This week, at the suggestion of a 14-year-old listener, we bring you stories from the awkward, confusing, hormonally charged world of middle school. Including a teacher who transforms peer pressure into a force for good, and reports from the frontlines of the middle school dance.

Prologue.

Host Ira Glass interviews a 14-year old named Annie, who emailed us asking if we would do a show about middle school. She explains why exactly the middle school years can be so daunting. (4 1/2 minutes)

Act One: Life in the Middle Ages.

In an effort to understand the physical and emotional changes middle school kids experience, Ira speaks with reporter Linda Perlstein, who wrote a book called Not Much Just Chillin’ about a year she spent following five middle schoolers. Then we hear from producer Alex Blumberg, who was a middle school teacher in Chicago for four years before getting into radio. Alex’s takeaway? We shouldn’t even try teaching kids at this age. Marion Strok, principal of a successful Chicago school, disagrees. (6 1/2 minutes)

Act Two: Stutter Step.

We sent several correspondents straight to the epicenters of middle school awkwardness: School dances. Producers Lisa Pollak and Brian Reed, plus reporters Eric Mennel, Rob Wildeboer and Claire Holman spoke with kids across the country during the nervous moments leading up to the dances. And Lisa even ventured inside, to the dance itself. (9 1/2 minutes)

Act Three: Mimis in the Middle.

When Domingo Martinez was growing up in a Mexican-American family in Texas, Domingo’s two middle school aged sisters found a unique way of coping with feelings of inferiority. This story comes from Martinez’s memoir The Boy Kings of Texas, which Lyons Press will publish in July 2012. (11 1/2 minutes)

Act Four: Anchor Babies.

We realized that there are already reporters on the ground, embedded inside middle schools: The kids who report the daily announcements, sometimes on video with full newscast sets. Producer Jonathan Menjivar wondered what would happen if instead of announcing sports scores and the daily cafeteria menu, the kids reported what’s really on their minds. Students at Parkville Middle School outside Baltimore, and their journalism teacher Ms. Davis, agreed to try out this experiment. (7 1/2 minutes)

Act Five: Blue Kid on the Block.

Producer Sarah Koenig reports on a kid we’ll call Leo, whose family recently moved away from Rochester, NY, leaving behind all of Leo’s friends and stranding him in a new—and in his opinion, much worse—middle school. (10 minutes)

Act Six: Grande with Sugar.

Ira speaks with Shannon Grande, a teacher at Rise Academy in Newark, about a seventh grader who had all sorts of problems with behavior and hygiene and schoolwork. In order to help turn him around, Grande had to harness the power of peer pressure for good. This story came from Elizabeth Green, who’s writing about Rise Academy for a book and for a reporting project on the schools called Gotham Schools. (7 minutes)

Note: Here are the covers of the two books mentioned above. I haven’t read either, but suspect that might change:

  1. 2 Responses to “Essential Listening: “Middle School” as featured on THIS AMERICAN LIFE”

  2. By Liz S on Nov 15, 2011

    Great tip. Am going on it asap. Thanks.

  3. By Liz S on Nov 15, 2011

    P.S. I don’t know either of those two books. Interesting….

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