Now that it's over, sixth grade really wasn't so bad.
Everyone agrees that Ms. Turner's class rocked. It's hard enough for a teacher to hold pupils' attention during a regular day when they are 11 or 12, but she did it even yesterday, the last day of school.
Ms. Turner pushes all the desks out of the way and puts all the chairs in a circle, except one, which is in the middle. Everyone takes turns sitting in the middle while everyone else says nice things about you. Things like, "If you're yelling at me at lunch and I say something, you always have a great comeback" and "You have the biggest binder that I've ever seen, yet you can pull papers out of it and you know where they are."
While people are saying nice things, Ms. Turner doesn't mind if you pass around yearbooks or sign the going-away card for "Sam I.," who is moving to New Jersey.
Cheyenne Conover, 11, likes how Ms. Turner says Cheyenne was always helpful gathering homework assignments for pupils who were absent. Ms. Turner's language arts class was her favorite class. Then again, none of her classes were as scary as she thought they would be 10 months ago when she arrived at Cockeysville Middle School, fresh out of Warren Elementary.
"I thought they were going to be really hard, but now they're easy," says Cheyenne, who is wearing a bathing suit under her jean skirt and light blue tank top, ready to hit her aunt's pool as soon as school is out.
The teachers were nothing like Cheyenne's 16-year-old sister said they would be. "She told me that the teachers are mean, which they're really not," she says. Same goes for the older pupils: "I've gotten to know more seventh- and eighth-graders. In the beginning of the year, everyone was saying how mean they would be, but they turned out to be really nice."
Cheyenne gets to leave Ms. Turner's class early to go to the "open space" -- that is, the multipurpose room -- to watch her cousin graduate from eighth grade. Only you don't exactly graduate from middle school. You just finish, and get a certificate and awards, and then you're off to high school.
After Ms. Turner's class, most of the kids who haven't left early go to Ms. Lintz's reading class. Classes are shorter than normal, 25 minutes each. Still, 25 minutes can be a long time on the last day of school. Three-and-a-half hours, the time it takes to get through all the classes and lunch, can be a very long time.
In Ms. Lintz's class, everyone lines up against the wall while she gives you a word to spell. If you get the word wrong -- seven people get peninsula wrong -- you have to get out of line and work on coloring the bubble letters on the "Welcome to the 6th grade" poster for next year's class.
At the end of the period, Ms. Lintz asks what everyone is doing this summer. Almost everyone is going to Ocean City. People are also going to Lake Placid, N.Y., Ohio and "Florida for the Fourth of July for 12 days."
Next comes Ms. Dickerson's world cultures class. She doesn't make you talk about world cultures, just pair up and brainstorm the "top 10 ways to annoy your parents this summer." Then Ms. Dickerson tells you the most annoying things that her son does to her.
Kylie Hanley, 11, and Nick Dinsmore, 12, have trouble keeping their list to 10. Sleep all day, leave the lights on, talk nonstop, eat junk food. Before they know it, they have 20.
By the time lunch and "specials" -- classes such as gym and art -- are done, sitting quietly is excruciating. Thankfully, Mr. Segal, the science teacher, doesn't try to make you sit quietly. He hands out a crossword puzzle with science terms and pupils' names that you can do while he signs your yearbook and three eighth-graders in strapless dresses pop in to say goodbye.
Mr. Segal doesn't mind that people are signing their names all over 11-year-old Zoe Goad's arms and right leg, or that someone is trying to sign her forehead. Or that everyone is coming over to hug Sam I. -- Samantha Itkoff.
Sam's father got a new job. She doesn't know what it is, but she does know that she's leaving for Princeton next Thursday. She's "a little sad."
"But you know what?" she says, elated after finding her name in the puzzle. "I've had such a great year. I'm so happy I could experience a year like this."
It started out rough, though. On the eighth day of school, Sam tripped and broke her left arm.
"I had to miss out on a full unit in gym," she says. "It was crazy ball and soccer and field hockey, and I had to miss out on all that ... But you know what? It made me stronger. Now I know what middle school's about."
And at 11:05 on a morning when life as you know it will change at 11:30, it's all about waiting for the final bell. When the time comes, Sam says, "You know you're going to cry and laugh at the same time."
During the last period on this last day of school 2005, Ms. Kirby asks everyone in her math class to name something they liked about the class and something they learned. Morgan says she learned how to multiply fractions. Ms. Kirby asks for someone to give Morgan two fractions to multiply.
Yet somehow, you make it through. Even now, with 15 minutes to go, you can still remember what to do with exponents and integers and improper fractions, and you ask Ms. Kirby to sign your yearbook.
Then, in an instant, it's over. You scurry in the hall, and then outside, skipping, waving your arms, shouting things like "I need a hug!" and "I'm so outta here!" Then you're on the bus, sticking your hands out the window so the principal can give you a high-five, and so you can wave to the teachers, who are standing outside in their denim Cockeysville Middle School baseball caps, as the bus drivers honk the horns and drive away.
No, sixth grade wasn't so bad. You learned about compound sentences, South Asia and poetry, how magnets work and how to write a paragraph.
And seventh grade will definitely be better.
"Everyone was telling me that in sixth grade, you're kind of nervous, seventh grade is the best year, and eighth grade you're just wanting to get out," Cheyenne says.
Yes, she's decided, the worst is over.
Until ninth grade.