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Class of 2017

Doors are opening...dare we walk through?

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"BOYS aren’t allowed in the girls’ cabin and vice-versa, but people keep playing knock-knock, ginger," Naomi explains, standing in front of the Tamarack chalet at Camp Arnes, about 90 minutes north of Winnipeg.She and the rest of the Class of 2017 -- the Windsor School crew we've been following since kindergarten -- are marking the end of Grade 6 with a camping trip. And with a timeless prank.

"It's like ding-dong ditch, where you ring the bell and run away," Naomi explains, unaware that the game was a hit before her grandmother was born. It dates back to 19th-century England.

Inside the dishevelled dwelling that is the 'B' side of Tamarack -- "It's a boy mess," one inhabitant proudly declares -- Griffin (who just happens to be ginger-haired) confesses: "I got dared. I knocked on the door very loud and walked away."

"You're not supposed to tell them it was you," Liam reminds his bunkmate before going on to demonstrate how the upstairs window "we contact the girls through" after lights-out opens wide enough to stick your head through.

 

DOORS. There are so many to knock on and go through in the journey of life. They can be a point of entry or exit, an invitation to enter a space and a frame of perception. They represent choice, opportunity and change when open, yet secrecy, exclusion and limitation when closed.

"Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself," goes an old Chinese proverb.

 

The Class of 2017 are aware they're coming to some new doors. Some they'll fling open in excitement and anticipation. And others? They'll have to summon up the nerve to knock and it will be tempting to run away and hide before the hinges creak open.

That's in the future, though. For now, we join the students on the western shore of Lake Winnipeg, where they will spend three days and two nights bonding over trail rides, zip-lining, wall climbing, fire building, human foosball, nature hikes, hay rides and campfire songs.

"We're not roughing it at all, we're barely camping," says Naomi, referring to the mattress beds and three-piece bath inside the chalet. Camp Arnes also has a fully staffed dining hall, an indoor heated swimming pool and multi-function rooms with pianos.

"This is luxury camping," according to Garrett.

"This is nothing compared with our (family) RV, which has TV and video games," Griffin counters.

Avery, whose family are frequent tenters, knows about roughing it. "We don't bring any technology, except for cellphones."

Griffin only got one hour of sleep last night, he says, because "these kids are loud," and Garrett, who was on the top bunk, "had his flashlight and thought it would be a good idea to turn it off and on."

Now, fresh from horseback riding, he's contemplating a leap from the chalet's upper mezzanine to that top bunk. Meanwhile, over at Tamarack A, the girls are sitting quietly on their beds, either resting or writing in their journals.

While some of these 11- and 12-year-olds have been halfway around the world with their parents -- Aby spent a month in Africa last winter and Thomas has been to Egypt -- this is the farthest from home they've ever been as a group since kindergarten.

 

Granted, only a dozen or so of the chubby-cheeked moppets we met in Doris Gietz's classroom in 2005 still remain. But those who do have literally grown up together and there's a certain comfort and familiarity in that and it's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

And now, after finally becoming the big fish in their end of the Windsor pond, the Class of 2017 will be splitting in two and moving down the hallway and into a junior position.

The Grade 6 door is closing. And at Windsor School there are two combined Grade 7/8 classes.

Waiting their turn at the climbing wall, to literally scale new heights, the "tweens" share their thoughts about leaving the nurturing cocoon of elementary school.

"I don't like it," says Hailey. "I've been with this class for, like, six years. There's going to be, like, 30 kids in each class, and I'm used to a small class.

"It just seems like things will be a lot harder, with more pressure and stuff."

Sarah concurs: "I'm not excited about it. You have to share the class with a different grade and you have to shift classrooms all the time. There's only 10 girls and for us to get split up... I don't want that to happen."

"No recess. That's definitely a con," says Noah. "I don't do good sitting in a class like a bajillion hours a day without a break."

Continued on next page

Quinn is "a little nervous. I want to do well. I want to get good grades," he says. "I want to be like an 80 average at least and right now I'm 70."

"I guess you feel pressured to do better because you're with an older grade," says Avery.

"You want to impress them," adds Thomas, who is excited about having his own locker but "a little scared" by the fact he's "getting really close to high school."

Shelby is pretty neutral about her next academic transition: "It'll be different, that's all I know."

Mason is a little more optimistic: "It's kinda cool. I guess we'll make new friends and stuff."

Liam is cautiously so: "I'm a little nervous that I'm not going to be able to be with my friends, but we'll still get to see each other in band and math."

Aby's opinion is "in between." "It's kind of good to get to know some of your classmates better," she says, "the ones we're not as close to."

Sydney is actually pretty pumped. "It sounds like fun because you don't stay in the same class all the time," she says, "and you get to meet all these new teachers. I'm excited."

And Thomas isn't worried at all. "I kind of feel like it's going to be OK," he says. "I have a lot of friends in the classroom, so no matter what, I'll always have a friend."

Ditto for Griffin, who says the change "doesn't matter to me. I know everybody in the grade above. My friend who lives across from me tells me it's hard, but half the time I don't believe him."

Junior high means more options -- art, guitar or band: choose two. And you get to take "Practical Arts" (a.k.a. shop and home-ec) although those classes are held over at Darwin School one morning a week, which means you have to find your own way there and back to Windsor. Most students take city transit.

"I feel a little young to be doing that," Sarah admits. "I'm only 12. I know I'm old enough but I'm used to being a little kid and not being able to do anything.

"Going into the junior high hallway, you feel like a little kid again. We've been the big kids for three years and now we're going to be the little kids again."

Not quite.

There have been some remarkable growth spurts in this preadolescent crowd. Voices have deepened, limbs have become long and lanky and, in a few cases, peach fuzz is already visible on boyish faces.

This new phase of rapid growth in height and weight is in fact called the "adolescent growth spurt." Brought on by hormonal changes, it typically starts at around age 11 in girls and a year or two later in boys.

"My shoe size went up two," Griffin, whom we last saw back in December, reports. "It was 5 1/2 and now I'm 7 1/2."

Liam, meanwhile, is quickly gaining on Julian, the tallest kid in the class at just over 5-3.

Psychologists use the term pubescence to describe the two-year span preceding puberty, when the pituitary gland really kicks into overdrive and the changes leading to physical and sexual maturity take place.

(Grade 6 is when Windsor students get "the puberty class," which is part of the Family Life curriculum and requires a signed note from home because of the "sensitive content.")

"The whole boy-girl thing is just starting to kick in, but in Grade 7 and 8 that's their life," says Darren Loney, who teaches science and art to Grades 6 through 8.

The period between ages seven and 11 is considered a developmental bridge between dependence and approaching independence -- a kind of training camp for adolescence, if you will.

Middle childhood has also been called the Age of Mastery because this is when children are challenged by issues of performance and competence. They place increased importance on achievement and gaining social acceptance.

"At the end of Grade 6, they start pulling away. They're really ready for the next step," says Jane Peck, a Windsor resource teacher and one of the chaperones on the Camp Arnes trip.

But even though they want to be teenagers, they're still very much kids, says the last full-time teacher the Class of 2017 will have as a unit.

"They're still a lot of fun," Colleen Neil says as she watches her Grade 6ers goofing around, boys and girls together, on the grass outside the dining hall.

"Look at them out there playing. In Grade 7 they'd be standing around talking."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 16, 2011 J1

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