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Official Article

Being The New Kid

Being the new kid in school is sometimes hard for children. Many of you probably moved several times during your childhood and had to start over making new friends in various cities, states or even countries. It’s not always easy, but it can lead to lots of interesting adventures if you let it. 

Today I’d like to share some of my experiences being a west coast transplant to an east coast elementary school in the early 90’s. Luckily I took pictures to document my days at a new school, so these images are the real deal. Note: I blacked out people's eyes because I don't have permission to use their likeness and who knows what the statute of limitations is on grainy photographs from the 90s taken by 11 year olds.

I’ll preface this story by saying that my hometown elementary school experience kind of soured for me around 5th grade when I started growing wider as well as taller. As a result I had fewer friends and more bullies, so when my parents said they were giving me the chance to move from Southern California to Southern New Jersey for 6 months in 1993 to live with my cousins, I was all about a new beginning.

Upon arrival in the small New Jersey town where my Mom grew up,  I spent the first 2 months traveling to summer vacation stops like the Paramount King’s Dominion theme park in Virginia and the Hershey’s chocolate factory in Pennsylvania. After those long road trips listening to my uncle sing along to The Phantom Of The Opera soundtrack, it was time for some back to school shopping. Getting a monthly allowance that my Dad would mail out to me, I was in total control of my school supply purchasing. I quickly bought a Mead Five-Star folder and Batman The Animated Series pencil box set, which I cherished above all else.

Luckily I had a cousin my age, so on the first day of 6th grade he showed me the ropes at Pitman Middle School (formerly Pitman High School, that my Mom had attended in her teen years). Yeah, middle school! This is where I started noticing differences between the East Coast and West Coast educational systems. First of all, in California 6th grade is still elementary school, so I instantly felt like a big shot being promoted to what we Orange County kids referred to as Junior High. Even better, we got to have lockers!

For years I had been dreaming of having my own locker like the jokesters from You Can’t Do That On Television and now the dream was reality. The functionality of being able to hang up my coat and store heavy books was completely beside the point. I might as well have had my own parking spot. I’ll admit that figuring out how to work the combination lock was a bit of a learning curve, but once I got it, I was a left, right, left twirling stud. I quickly sought out magazine photos and stickers to tape inside the door to make it my own.

Next up was this thing called Homeroom. Basically during the first period of the day you had a class of people you hung out with while announcements about school activities played on a wall-mounted TV. It was here that I started re-defining myself as "The California Kid". Being from the land of palm trees and beaches instantly gave me an exotic persona and the fact that I likely sounded like a valley girl compared to the “tough” New Jersey accent helped things even more. Soon I was making friends who were passing out their school portrait photos to me, not knowing anything about my reputation back home as the fat, annoying kid.

The local kid who became my best friend was a guy named Jason, who looked like a cross between Macaulay Culkin and Christian Slater. He had a nice, but roguish edge to him, which made me feel cooler every time we hung out. Within the first week of school he invited me over to his house to listen to Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Ozz and watch the Night of the Living Dead remake from 1988. From there we walked the halls together each day laughing and joking and even exchanged Christmas presents when the holidays arrived.

I also became friendly with the deaf and hard of hearing kids in my homeroom. I had a feeling they were used to feeling like outsiders in school, so I could relate. Since I didn’t know sign language, we just wrote notes back and forth in class. Never in my life had I been cool enough to pass a note to, so this was just one more reason I was glad to be starting over. Little did I know that danger lurked just a mile away from the school grounds. That was the day I found out about, “The Pit”.

One day these two 6th graders got into a scuffle in the halls. Who knows what it was about, but after it got broken up I remember one of the guys yelling to the other, “We’ll settle this at The Pit after school. You better not chicken out!” At lunch that day in the cafeteria I asked my cousin what The Pit was and he said it was the official fighting ground where people met to settle differences, with their fists!

Instantly I was imagining a Mortal Kombat style arena with industrial machines and chains hanging around. He told me it was really just a secluded spot at the bottom of a hill surrounded by trees, where kids went to fight sometimes. I didn’t have the guts to go see the brutality for myself, but the possibility of being challenged to battle at The Pit was on my mind from that day forward, so I just tried to play nice with everybody.

After school activities were just as important as the time spent roaming the halls and no place was more special to me than the local pizza parlor near the old movie theater. For years I had grown up seeing cool after-school hangouts like The Max from Saved By the Bell or The Peach Pit on Beverly Hills, 90210 and now I had one to call my very own. At 3:30pm the place would be packed with kids ages 11-13, ordering giant slices of pizza for $1.50 in a flurry of laughter and general silliness. Really it was about being independent with friends and having money in my pocket to spend as I chose.

As the season began to change and snow fell on the ground, my magical journey as the new kid was drawing to a close. It was a sad time because I had so much fun meeting new people with no pre-conceived notions of what I was all about. I knew I was leaving friends because during my last week, everybody in my classes agreed to pose for a going away picture. Jason and I said our good-byes and I packed my bags.

As I landed back on California soil I could feel the fantasy end, soon I would be back treading unfriendly, yet familiar waters. Plus, I was being demoted back to an elementary school kid with no locker to call my own. When I look back on that wonderful time, I guess I learned that being the new kid is what you make of it. In my case, I turned it into a 6 month adventure that I’ll never forget.

So how did you cope with being the new kid? Was it a good or bad experience?

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pikachulover Posted on Jan 19, 2016 at 05:35 PM

It think it depends on where you live in California. Were I went to school junior high was from 6th-8th grade. But there was this strange limbo where you could choose to be at the elementary school up until 8th grade.

Rick Ace Rhodes Posted on Jan 19, 2016 at 05:25 PM

I've been where you've been Hoju, and much like you I embraced the change.

I moved out of state in the summer right before the start of 9th Grade, AKA the start of High School. I had spent my entire life up until that point in the same area I was born in. It wasn't as big of a move as California to New Jersey, but it was still a change, one of which was happening right before I started one of the most important stages of life.

However, I embraced the change. I hated where I went to school growing up. I was picked on for a variety of reasons throughout middle school and parts of elementary. My 7th grade year was one of the worst years of my life. During that year I got into fights more often with those who picked on me, spent a lot of time in the principals office for those fights, and hated getting up in the morning to go to school. I'm guessing that year among other reasons was what drove my parents to move out of state.

I ended up enjoying the move. I made new friends and was actually happy to get up in the morning to go to school. I'm was glad to read this article and learn of another story like mine.

Vaporman87 Posted on Jan 19, 2016 at 10:51 AM

This was a part of childhood I never experienced (for which I am grateful, actually). It would have been very difficult for me if I had, being a very shy and introverted kid who was also short.

Probably the closest experience I could have had to this would have been my first year in high school (which, as I have previously mentioned elsewhere here at RD, was actually my 7th grade year... since there was no "middle school" in my school district. 7th graders and Seniors walked the same halls in my school). That was a bit of an awkward struggle for us all, being so young and trying to find our place amongst these high schoolers.

No, I needed the stability and familiarity in my youth. Even though my status in school wasn't exactly what one would like, it was enough for me to get by without too much bullying/humiliation/etc., and I even managed to be acceptable enough to be on friendly terms with some whose status was much higher than mine. I made it work, somehow. To have to give that up and start anew... that would have crushed me, I think.

I'm glad you made the most of it Hoju. My hats off to you.

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