September 3, 2013

They're only 13, but a lot of them have cellphones. A lot of them post pictures of themselves online on Facebook.

They play video games - like that popular war shooter, Call of Duty - and watch TV - like Girl Code, the MTV show with funny, attractive women who talk about shopping and dieting and how to choose a "rebound guy" after a bad break-up.

They say school lunch is greasy and tastes like rubber.

Spend a day with these Carroll Middle School eighth-graders, and it's clear: none of them have walked to school in 3 feet of snow, uphill in both directions. But really, who has?

Spend a day with these eighth-graders, and they reveal bits and pieces of their school and private lives. Sometimes they reveal more.

Many of them are talented.

One boy is a free-wheelin' motocross racer. One's a dancing cheerleader. One's a great bowler who rolls in state competitions.

One's a boy who bangs out beats with pencils after class, in small shows for other students. But he was too shy to perform for the Daily Times Herald.

They feel those adrenaline rushes - those fleeting moments of euphoria - when they throw a touchdown or win the race or hear their 5-year-old sibling tell a silly joke.

One girl feels it when she crouches in her lane at a track meet and her name booms from the loud speakers and all eyes are on her.

They tell lots of stories. About getting hit by cars, fist fights and lighting firecrackers. Most are believable.

They like the bus driver who tells lots of jokes. And the one who sings to the little kids in the front of the bus. And the one who has a giant collection of hats.

Some students say mean things to the "special" kids in their grade.

They get nervous when they stand in front of the class and make a pitch to get elected to the student council. One promises that he can relate to everyone "because I do everything." One is a class clown who vows to be serious.

One forgot what office he was running for midway through his spiel.

They wake in the morning at 6:30 and 7 a.m. and go to sleep at 10 p.m. Some arise earlier - usually on a farm to feed animals like rabbits and goats. One boy stays up late so he can watch the cartoon Tom & Jerry.

One girl packs lunch before school - a turkey sandwich with mayo - to avoid the school meals. One raises 15 chickens that should start laying eggs soon.

They listen to the popular radio music and country and classic rock. Most of them have heard and seen teen heartthrob Justin Bieber, but few admit they like him.

They say the toughest classes are math with Mr. Poock and social studies with Mr. Schmidt.

They're scared of the dark.

One girl fears turning on the bathroom light and seeing someone staring at her through the mirror. A boy avoids sleeping with his back to the bedroom door, where the staircase is nearby with its bottomless abyss at night.

One is scared of being buried alive or drowning.

And although these kids still have a lot to learn and see in life, some of their experiences transcend age.

One stopped going to his father's house on the weekends because he said his stepmother locked him in a room and would hold him down while his father struck him with a belt.

One girl's father left her life when she was 5. She doesn't know where he is.

She's sad because she can't really remember anything about him.

Spend a day with these eighth-graders, and they'll surprise you with their openness.