Should middle-schoolers have to walk in straight lines?

Taylor Easter, Writer

Ever since middle schoolers started attending Dickinson in September 2015, they have been required to walk in a straight line upstairs in the morning and afternoons and to and from the cafeteria. This was a rule that admittedly became a lot stricter this year, however the practice has generated controversy among the middle school students, as a lot of them believe that they need more freedom. A common refrain repeated last year was that students were going to be woefully unprepared for high school if they are still being treated like elementary students. Eighth grader Isha Airi is one of the many students who agrees with that sentiment. Airi jokingly declared, “We need to declare our independence from Mr. Mel!” partially in reference to the lines and an assignment the eighth grade had done for their social studies class. (However, please keep that Mr. John Melidosian, the MYP’s guidance counselor, is not solely responsible for all of these policies. Instead, decisions are made with the help of the teachers and administration. The smaller scale decisions, like the paths the middle schoolers take to from the cafeteria to the MYP, are made by Mr. Melidosian.)

Although Airi is kidding, this statement is understandable, especially from a middle schooler’s perspective. Last year, MYP journalist Melanie Daly wrote a piece entitled “Middle schoolers weigh in: are students too contained?”, and Daly touched on the subject of the independence of middle schoolers. For the most part, students then believed that middle schoolers were in fact too contained, and but the teachers disagreed. There were some students, however, that disagreed and said that they were satisfied with the level of independence that we had.

This year, it’s more of the same opinions, although the circumstances have changed slightly regarding the liberties awarded to middle schoolers. As of February 23, 2017, eighth graders are no longer required to walk in a straight line to and from the cafeteria. They can just go straight down from their fifth or sixth period class and the rest of the middle schoolers follow behind them. (For the first two days following this, eighth graders were dismissed from the cafeteria first as well. This is no longer the case. Instead, they can simply bypass the line when their respective lunch tables are dismissed.) The eighth graders, for the most part, are happy with this change. An eighth grader who wished to remain anonymous says, “I am happy that the change has been made that we don’t have to walk in a line, in silence, down the hallway, and that we have the freedom to talk quietly.” Another eighth grader, Sean Ferguson, shared a similar sentiment. It’s nice that the eighth grade has been issued this smaller bit of independence, but it’s not much, according to most of the current eighth grade students.

After all, they’ll be going off to high school in the fall.  At their previous middle schools, being able to walk whenever and wherever in the school without needing an escort was more of a right than a privilege. Here it’s definitely a privilege just for middle schoolers to walk down to the Performing Arts and/or Band classes without waiting for their teacher, Mr. Ronaghan, to come get them. Some eighth graders are especially are worried that they won’t be ready for the independence they’ll receive in high school if they’re still being treated like elementary schoolers, what with needing to walk in straight lines everywhere and needing a teacher to take them outside of their two hallways. Ferguson says, “We are mature enough, or most of us are mature enough, to get through the high school without getting killed. I can kind of understand a sixth grader needing someone to come upstairs with them, but to a lesser extent, seventh graders and eighth graders, because I think we’re mature enough to handle ourselves.”

MYP English teacher Jenna Flickinger agrees. She says, “Eighth grade definitely needs more opportunities for independence. Seventh grade should have the right to earn that independence. Sixth grade, definitely not.” Another MYP teacher, Anthony Swierzbinski, says, “I think that giving the eighth grade the opportunity to be independent is fine.” He went on to say that he thinks that seventh and sixth grades are a good time to build structure for those students, since they are younger. However, it’s been made clear by students and teachers alike that they need more independence. But what kind of independence?

For starters, it could be nice for a middle schooler to not have to walk in a straight line everywhere, as long as they don’t talk loudly enough to disrupt the high schoolers. (The middle schoolers have had problems with this in the past, especially going to and from lunch.) Sixth grader Madyson Graham says, “The high schoolers aren’t in the hallways, so why can’t we just walk through the halls? They’re in their classrooms, what are they going to do?” Ever since the middle schoolers started attending Dickinson, the worst any high schooler has done was call a middle schooler short, and none of them are going to be scarred for life because they were called short by some random high schoolers.

However, even though the middle schoolers want to break out of their little circle in a way, walking in a straight line everywhere and not going anywhere without an escort is a way of keeping them safe from possible dangers. At least six times this year, the middle schoolers have either been held in the cafeteria longer or had to switch the way they go upstairs in the morning because of fights or other disturbances in the high school. Keeping them isolated would prevent middle schoolers being hurt in situations like this, and it would prevent them from being otherwise harassed by high schoolers. Obviously, not all high schoolers have bad intentions when it comes to middle schoolers, but some of them might. Also, the high schoolers are supposed to be in class when the middle schoolers are going through the school, but not all of them are going to be in their classroom. Some might be just using the bathroom or getting something from their lockers, but this certainly won’t be the case for all high schoolers. For this reason, keeping the middle schoolers separate is a necessary precaution to guarantee their safety.

When asked if safety is the sole reason why middle schoolers walk in a straight line down the hallways, the middle school’s guidance counselor, Mr. Melidosian, offered an interesting perspective. Keeping the middle schoolers safe from themselves is actually part of the reason why they walk in a straight line everywhere. Last year, the rules about the straight lines weren’t enforced very strictly. As long as how they were walking resembled a line, they were fine. This has changed a lot this year. Now, the line is a lot more uniform, and people get pulled out of line if they aren’t directly behind someone or if they’re talking too loudly. Mr. Melidosian says, “Safety reasons are kind of a byproduct because people were falling because they were running and falling into things, and that was obviously unsafe. People were also running and could’ve hit someone else. That was one thing, but I’d say the thing that was more bothersome was that people were trying to cut in front of other people, and when there isn’t a structure to say who was first to begin with, people were getting inconvenienced by getting cut in front of by people who were trying to get to the cafeteria first.”

Another reason why middle schoolers walk in straight lines everywhere is because the absence of lines caused the middle schoolers to be very loud, since they’d talk with their friends, and this disrupted the high school students and teachers. Even a group of eighth graders who were taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress test (or NAEP test) in the library during the middle school’s lunch period noted that the group of middle schoolers coming up were extremely loud. Mr. Melidosian also says, “The other reason was that we had some high school rooms tell us that when we weren’t in line [and] people were going at their own speed, people were really loud and disrupting tests and things like that. All of these decisions came together and we said, ‘Okay, it’s probably better for us to go back to a line, because without a line it didn’t work very well.’”

At the moment, there aren’t going to be any changes made to the way middle schoolers walk everywhere. There are still going to be straight lines and there is still going to be quiet going down the hallway. However, if the students would like to change that next year or even at the end of this year, they should talk to Mr. Melidosian, and see if anything realistic can be done.