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What’s So Great About Middle School, Anyway?

We asked eighth graders from across our middle schools to tell us about what they loved in middle school. Not surprisingly, many recounted how much they loved their electives and team experiences. We’re excited to share with you the reflections of three eighth graders, from Success Academy Harlem North Central, SA Harlem West, and SA Bed Stuy Middle School, about what playing on a competitive team in their school means to them.

collage3Lorenda Dorismond, Volleyball, SA Harlem West

Life is all about taking risks, and for me, volleyball was definitely one of them. I was in fifth grade and had never even watched a single game of volleyball — nor had I touched one! My friend Aby had been playing volleyball for a while and asked me to try out with her, and I agreed to come along because…why not? I was very nervous when I first tried out and I wasn’t the best player. I struggled a lot but one thing I really liked was serving. The fulfillment of getting the ball over the net was just very exciting to me and somehow I got on the volleyball team. Fast forward a couple of years to seventh grade: I was captain of the volleyball team and we won the championship! Over these years, I learned to fall in love with volleyball. Every practice, I learn something new — skills, bumps, blocks — and to think I wasn’t even going to try out!

Volleyball is very important to me beyond just the fun of playing. It took me a while to get good at the sport and it helped me understand the pay-off of practice and hard work. It also helped me understand that everything isn’t all about winning: Volleyball showed me that we all have to work as a team to get the points. No one can get anything done on their own — and that is true not only for sports but for everything.

I am grateful to SA Harlem West for introducing me to volleyball. The school encouraged everyone to try out, whether they were a good player or not. The coaches not only motivated us to work hard, but to also stay focused on our academics as well. The kids on the team were nice and kind and being part of the team increased my confidence in both school work and sports success. Whenever we would win, the joy in our hearts would show and we would all be happy and celebrate together.

Volleyball is not just a sport it’s a life lesson: “No man is an island unto himself.” No one can accomplish anything on their own — a little support from your friends is always needed.


Absa Diop, Debate, SA Harlem North Central

Why do I love to debate? You may ask what in the world is “debate” and what does it have to do with me? Well, debate is offered here at Success Academy, and I participate in the debate club at my middle school, Success Academy Harlem North Central. Debate is when you professionally “argue” over a controversial topic for a whole school year. It’s a fun way to get engaged with world topics and to know them inside and out.

When I was in fifth grade, my math teacher told me, “You should join the debate team — you’re always arguing with people.” After a few more pushes from her, I tried out for the team and made it. Mr. Talamo, my first debate teacher, taught me a lot of what I know today about stepping out of my comfort zone to do the unexpected, which is debate’s most valuable learning opportunity.

Debate also opens people up to topics that most people run from or avoid talking about. This year our topic is immigration reform, which is always in the news right now. At debate tournaments, we are expected to propose a policy that reduces restrictions on immigration and then defend that policy through strong arguments. We had a debate tournament last week and we defended the D.R.E.A.M. Act, which is a law that would help undocumented immigrants under 18 years old get permanent citizenship.

But debate is not simply talk, talk, talk — you also form deep bonds with the people you spend your Saturdays with. They become your second family. This year, we welcomed two new members of our team. One is Destiny, who was already a friend of mine in seventh grade. Now that we attend zero-period debate together every day, our bond has grown. We always ask each other for help and practice together: that’s what I call a second family.

Debate also opens us up to new opportunities and adventures. Last year, we went to Boston and Kentucky for tournaments. It was very fun — not just the staying up late in our hotel rooms (don’t tell anyone!) but actually debating with people and letting them hear our voice.

Overall, debate is an amazing experience. Some people ask me, “Why are you on the debate team? It seems like a lot of work!” But I always say to them: “You have to put time and energy into it, but after you compete and win, all your work pays off. And thanks to that work, the path of golden opportunities will be waiting for you in the future.”


Geah Jean Baptiste, Chess, SA Bed Stuy Middle School

I’m 13 years old but I’ve already been playing chess for eight years now. I just love it. When I was younger, about five or six years old, I saw my dad pull out a board and set up weird pieces on it. He started playing with his friend and I became captivated by the game. In the end, my father won, so I asked him if he could teach me how to play. Of course, he said yes.

Luckily, I also got to learn chess at Success Academy. In third grade, I joined my school’s chess team. Today, chess still really interests me and I have a great support group — my coaches, my family, and my chess team — that has continued to push me to be a great chess player. I love chess because it’s a game in which you have to think incredibly hard about every move in order to get a good position and to win the game.

Thanks to chess, I have been able to travel to places like Florida, Chicago, and Tennessee for chess tournaments. The first time I travelled to a tournament was in sixth grade. I remembered feeling incredibly nervous to play chess in other states — I knew I would be playing against people from around the country in a completely new and different environment. At the same time, I was excited to have the opportunity to travel to play chess, picking up new experiences and improving my chess skills.

It is true that chess can be a long game to play, but at the end of the game, whether you win or lose, you always learn something new, gain experience, and improve your skills. Thanks to chess, I have learned the discipline of controlling my time and thinking through every move carefully. These skills help me succeed in chess, but also in life.


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