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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

CLASS OF 2017: It's the twilight of the age of innocence

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It's Friday morning at Windsor School and we are in the guitar room doing the Chicken Dance while singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

I say "we" because there are no observers allowed at circle time, only participants.

Silly song-and-dance combos might seem like a strange way to start a morning meeting in your world, but that's how we roll in the Circle of Power and Respect -- CPR as it's known in the Responsive Classroom approach to elementary education. That approach is based on the premise children learn best when they have both academic and social-emotional skills.

In CPR, we connect as a class and listen to each other's stories, hopes and fears without putting each other down. Everyone is seen, heard and acknowledged.

"It's a sharing circle. It teaches social interaction in a positive way," says Windsor teacher Colleen Neil, who did CPR sessions with her class every morning for the first six weeks of school and continues to do so every Monday and Friday.

Apparently, sixth-graders generally aren't too stingy with their thoughts and feelings. "Some of them are very comfortable sharing. Sometimes they even share a little too much," says Neil.

Not that she's complaining.

Neil has seen the future -- she teaches Grade 7 math -- and it is, well, not so responsive or generous.

"They'll have their MP3 players on when they're doing their math. The Grade 8s do it even more. They're individuals and they want to be in their own little world," the 15-year teacher says of the teenage contingent at this K to 8 school (pop. 238 students) where she's worked for the past six years.

Neil's sixth graders, meanwhile, are "more about cooperating and figuring things out together. They're a bit more social.

"They're still young at heart. I can still get them to do anything," she says. "I can get them in a conga line singing California Girls.

"I'd say there is still lots of innocence left."

Perhaps, but junior high is literally just around the corner. And while adolescents are famous for many things, but being sweet and/or innocent isn't typically among them. We're just saying.

Welcome back to the Class of 2017.

Speaking of famous adolescents, we would like to state on the record that working at a newspaper does not automatically afford a person access to Justin Bieber's phone number.

Either Bieber Fever has an incubation period or that sold-out September concert sparked a fresh outbreak, because there were only a few confirmed cases when we last visited the class back in April. Now it seems half the class is infected, including Quinn.

"Omigod! Justin Bieber is the best," the 11-year-old says. "I made up this syndrome. It's called UCLFJB - Uncontrollable Love For Justin Bieber."

Hope Quinn doesn't mind that we shared that. He didn't say "Don't quote me" or "Put that in the paper, but don't quote me" - two directives we're starting to hear a lot from this bunch.

Our young friend did mention that - and we promise this is the last time we'll mention the name - Justin Bieber has inspired him to start writing his own songs.

Like "baby, baby, baby, oh" love songs, we ask?

"No, eww," Quinn answers. "I'm writing a pop song and a rap song on my computer and then I'll transfer them on to guitar and put them on YouTube to see which one people like better." The working title of the rap tune is Rebel.

The Class of 2017 may be part of the most-wired generation in history, but they're not exactly riding the new wave of social media that has emerged into the mainstream in recent years. No texting, tweeting or tapping the hours away yet.

Most say they only go online occasionally. Only a handful are on Facebook.

"All I go on the Internet for is to research something for school or to go on my school's website, or for Typing Pal (a free online typing program) or to play games, " says Naomi.

Griffin is too busy nurturing his NHL dream to get lost in cyberspace, but if he's "kinda bored" he'll go online and look around, but usually ends up on TSN's website checking out hockey scores.

Sydney checks her G-mail once or twice a week, but that's about it. "I don't really want to be on Facebook," she says. "And my mom won't let me."

Neither will Hailey's nor Aby's, apparently.

"My mom says 'You're too young,' says the latter.

Sydney, for one, is content with old-school social networking. "I don't want to end up on the computer all the time. I still like to play outside."

Never mind the potential pitfalls of putting your Facebook profile on the World Wide Web.

"It's dangerous almost," says Hailey. "There are people pretending to be who they're not. Some stories are kind of creepy to hear."

"Stalkers," Sarah chimes in.

You just make sure you have all your privacy settings on, Kimberly points out. And don't put too much information on it, Mackenzie adds.

Garrett, who is walking around the classroom at lunch with a small digital camera slung over his shoulder, explains that he borrows it from his sister to take pictures of himself and his friends to post on Facebook.

"I've also been making review videos about different products," he says, declining to name any of them. (If it's the braces he got in October, two "annoying" thumbs down.)

 

Hailey maintains that "less than half" of everything on the Internet is actually true. "Well, the news is true," she clarifies, "but the rest is just gossip." Sydney says you can only trust 25 per cent of what's out there.

OK, so if our sixth graders aren't plugged into a network of digital devices that bring the world to their fingertips, how do they find out what's going on out there - beyond the classroom, the school yard, the street corners where they "cross" people while on safety patrol duty, their St. Vital neighbourhood, Winnipeg, and so on?

In other words, where do tweens get their news?

Aby rattles off her list: "School, parents, TV, Internet."

Sydney says she'll sometimes read the headlines of "that top 10 thing that pops up when I open my Internet," while Mackenzie, Naomi, and Griffin usually rely on family to alert them to major news events.

"Sometimes my mom will come in and say, 'Hey kids, look at this,' like she did with the Chilean miners," says Griffin.

Says Mackenzie: "My grandparents always watch the news, and when I call them, they always tell me what's going on."

Julianna sometimes watches the news with her parents, as does Quinn.

"There's some interesting stuff on the news," he says, "people getting released from prison, explosions and dead soldiers and stuff like that. I feel really sad when I see that because they risked their lives for Afghanistan. They were trying to get rid of the terrorists."

Does he trust what he sees and hears on TV?

"I trust it," Quinn says, "but I never trust the weatherman."

And now for our news update, academically speaking, on the Class of 2017 version 6.0: There have been upgrades.

"No more baby music, real music" is how Sarah describes their foray into Windsor's concert band program. Certainly a tuba or a trombone can make last year's recorder look like a toy by comparison.

Science takes place in Mr. Loney's classroom down the hall and involves hands-on experiments in electricity - learning the difference between a conductor and an insulator, for example.

Math is currently about decimals and rounding to the nearest tenth and such, but apparently you no longer say "point" when reading a number like 0.549 and . . . sorry, we tuned out at that point.

Phys-ed is more about fitness and health and developing skills toward specific sports, such as volleyball, than it is about playing games.

Social studies and English Language Arts are currently delving into Confederation, immigration and Canadian government past and present. (According to one student's exam paper, one of our political parties at the federal level is the Greenhouse Party.)

Beaucoup French. The class gets 200 minutes of instruction in it every six-day cycle.

Lunch is still eaten inside the classroom, although most of the boys who stay at school over the noon hour usually go into the guitar room. Sources say they're too "inappropriate" and "sick-minded" to dine with civilized beings and will "turn everything you say into something gross."

Two lunchrooms might be a good idea, actually. Next week, Mme. Neil will introduce the Family Life curriculum, which covers body changes, puberty and reproduction.

Recess is still a favourite subject. But its days are numbered, of course; there's no such thing in junior high.

Hopefully the Circle of Power and Respect never closes -- even if a lot of the sharing ends up being done on Facebook.

Apparently Aby was really serious about being in no hurry to sign up.

"I'll maybe get it when I'm an adult so I can talk to my mom."

But that's a long way away -- on the other side of junior high. For now, it's as Neil says: There's still lots of innocence left.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 11, 2010 A1

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