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Let go and move on: A middle school's new credo helps with both teaching and learning

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Show up. Study hard. Be honest. These time-honored principles of school life still hold sway, but one Massachusetts middle school has added a directive associated with modern wellness. Many students try to put the school's credo into action, and administrators say it helps both teaching and learning. Judith Kogan has our story.

JUDITH KOGAN, BYLINE: Every morning and afternoon at Brown Middle School in Newton, Mass., eighth graders commandeer the school's PA system.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Math team and flag football will meet today.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Girls soccer will be playing their final game of the season tomorrow...

KOGAN: Lots of schools have mottos and credos, and they let students voice them. Here at Brown Middle, the credo is deeply embraced.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Be here. Be safe and kind. Set goals. Be honest. Let go and move on.

KOGAN: Once upon a time, perseverance and grit were the coins of the realm in school. But at this school, let go and move on has been a sell for middle school wounds that can interfere with learning. Eighth graders Bessie Madden and Ethan Wright name some of them.

BESSIE MADDEN: If you made a mistake or you, like, got in a fight with someone.

ETHAN WRIGHT: Have an argument with a friend, maybe miss a homework assignment.

BESSIE: Someone else insulted you or something.

KOGAN: Middle school is often a challenging time. Social media, heightened academic pressure and emerging adolescence collide. Brown Middle School principal Kim Lysaght says bumps are inevitable. The students are leaving childhood and peering at adulthood.

KIM LYSAGHT: Middle school is a mistake factory. Like, let's face it.

KOGAN: She says the bigger problem is that students sometimes can't put mistakes in perspective.

LYSAGHT: Kids will hold on to something that went wrong in their day or week or year. And instead of forgiving or trying to give themselves or others a second chance, they hang on to that, which impacts their ability to move forward.

KOGAN: Beyond inclusion in the twice-daily announcements, let go and move on is painted on the gym wall, plastered on hallway posters and woven into classroom discussions.

LYSAGHT: Especially when kids have maybe done something wrong. We talk about how tomorrow's a new day. We learn from it, and then we let go and we move on. Nobody is defined by one action that they did.

KOGAN: Where there's friction between students, they're often brought together to hear each other out. Sometimes that involves an apology or at least ownership of their role in the situation. It helps them to pass each other in the hall later and not have that visceral reaction. Brown Middle School students like Ryana Nair have found the advice helpful in settling differences.

RYANA NAIR: Holding a grudge is like holding hot coals and expecting the other person to be burned. It's pretty useless unless you just resolve the conflict.

KOGAN: Thirteen-year-old Nair says that a lot of bumps revolve around friendships, which, in middle school, can be fluid and confusing.

RYANA: As everyone pieces together their personalities, friend groups don't always stay together. You stay friends, but you shift apart. You're becoming an individual and an adult, so you need to be able to be independent and make your personality without your friends being there all the time.

KOGAN: But some of the frustration is self-directed, especially when grades or academic performance falter. It doesn't help that each student's own academic record is a computer click away. Eighth grader Ruby Antonellis says she thinks about the school's credo most every day.

RUBY ANTONELLIS: As someone who takes setbacks very seriously, I think that let go and move on is a great way to say, we're here to learn, and learning is a process that's not just success after success.

KOGAN: Antonellis wonders whether, with wars raging in the Middle East and Europe, global leaders might consider Brown Middle School's tenet.

RUBY: World leaders should let go and move on because it is important to focus on modern day. And as much as our past and our history is relevant, we are only focusing on trying to make the current world a better place.

KOGAN: From this eighth grader's lips to the ears of diplomats the world over. For NPR News, I'm Judith Kogan in Newton, Mass.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: That's it. So have a great day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Judith Kogan