Sunday, September 18, 2011


This past Thursday and Friday, I went on retreat with the eighth grade, their class dean, one of their teachers, and the head of school.  Our school is unique in California and very rare in the whole country in that we begin with the eighth grade, essentially allowing a small group of students to start the high school experience a year early.  It’s a wonderful experience, allowing a few highly motivated, very bright teenagers to acclimate to the demands of high school before their grades will be reported on their transcripts.  The eighth grade take almost all of their classes together and become very close over the year. 

So eighteen teenagers (and nearly teenagers) plus four adults loaded into three vans and headed out for an overnight at a youth hostel that is attached to a beautiful lighthouse about an hour north of Monterey.  It is amazing what one learns on a car trip.  My lexicon of teenage slang has been completely replenished, for instance.  It seems that this year, slang has undergone a more profound shift than in previous years.  I remember when “sick” gradually replaced “phat,” but the latter hung on for a year or two.  “Awesome” was the descriptor of choice for an unusually extended period.  This year, I heard not a single hold-over from the slang of last year.  Should you want to talk to thirteen-year-olds, the two words you might want to keep in mind are “troll” and “hack.”

Hack (verb): to cheat; to bend or break rules.  Noun form, hacker.  Sample sentence: “Bro, you totally hacked that.  There is no way you can win that game in five moves.”  Also, “You hacker!  Go to the back of the line, bra.” 

Side note: It seems that “bro” and “bra” have virtually replaced “dude.”  I’m not sure whether to be happy about this or not.  I do know that it is a symptom of lameness to call someone “Dude.”  Actual overheard conversation:

Girl: Dude, let’s go down to the beach and throw the Frisbee.
Boy: You did not just say “Dude”!  Tell me you didn’t say that, bro!
Girl: Whatever!  C’mon, bro.

Troll (verb): to purposely insult someone in order to make the victim angry.  Noun form: troll.  Sample sentence: “I didn’t mean it.  I was just trollin’ ya.  That shirt looks good on you.”  It is an odd form of entertainment, I grant you, but it appears to be very popular.  A frequent topic of conversation was online game forums on which participants trolled other participants, making fun of comments they had posted or questions they’d asked.  This gives rise to the phrase, “Get off the forum, newb.”

Newb (noun): newbie; newcomer.

Another useful word to know is “seriously.”  This word has become more interjection than adverb and can be used singly (“Bro, seriously?  I can’t believe you dealt me this hand”) or in strings with varied inflections which subtly alter meaning (“Did you just troll me?  Seriously? Seriously.  Seriously!  That is not cool.”)

The group was endlessly entertaining, most often hanging out all together, sometimes breaking into two smaller groups or ever-shifting duos and triads.  When they did try to troll each other, the end result was always raucous laughter, led by the “victim.”  The truth is, they are a caring, sensitive group, more inclined to defend and protect each other than to harass and insult.

In their defense,
it was a sunny day...

On Thursday evening, we gathered together in the living room of one of the cabins to talk about what students were enjoying about their new school or what they would like to see changed, and what their goals were for the year. 

“I like that, here, my friends congratulate me for getting a good grade.  At my old school, people made fun of you or called you bad names if you did well academically.”

“I like it that everybody here is friendly.  Nobody is mean to anybody else.  I can be myself.”

“I like it that, even though I’m in eighth grade, I can talk to a senior.”

“Yeah, that’s my goal—I want to talk to one particular senior!”

“Ooooo!  We know which one!”

            (Much laughter)

“My goal is to learn a lot of math.  I mean, a lot!  I’m not so good at math and I want to be.”

“My goal is to survive science fair.”

“You will!  I’ll help you.  My goal is to do well in Chinese and you can tutor me.”

Each student had had a chance to speak about what he or she enjoyed and a goal for the coming year.  The class dean was bringing the conversation to a close.  Suddenly, a hand shot up from the corner of the couch.  “Wait!  Can I say one more thing?”


“It’s something I like, but it’s something I’m really thankful for, too.  Is that okay?”

“Of course!”

“I’m really thankful that we get to have Cleo at our school.”  Many murmurs of assent.  “I love that whenever I’m stressed, I can just go and hug Cleo and I feel better.”  Many nods and “Me, toos.”  There was a little silence as the students considered this.  Then one said, “Too bad she’s so funny looking.”

Consternation all around!

He laughed and added, “Nah, I’m just trollin’ ya!”


  1. What a cute story, How I enjoy being part of your school and Cleo's life

  2. This makes me think of 8th grade year.. ah the memories.. :')
    I hope you see this, Mrs. Sherry!

  3. This almost seems like ancient history now. You all have grown up so much in the last two years! How's the math coming?