Group Posts – School Outfitters Blog Furnishing Great Places To Learn Fri, 05 Feb 2016 21:51:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Middle School Memories Wed, 11 Jun 2014 22:09:49 +0000 The “worst years of your life”? Well, maybe. But it isn’t all bad. Here we share some of our favorite middle school memories.

When I was in the 6th grade, my homeroom teacher taught science, and kept gerbils in her classroom. Each week, a different student was responsible for feeding and caring for the gerbils. We all looked forward to our turn. When my week finally rolled around, I arrived early on Monday morning to fulfill my duties. I was shocked and confused to discover tiny, hairless creatures crowded together on one end of the gerbils’ cage. The only similar creatures I’d ever encountered were baby mice that were fed to a pet snake, which happened to reside in our school’s music room. My teacher had a good laugh when I informed her that someone had deposited the snake’s food into our gerbil habitat. Of course it turned out that there was no malicious intent involved – the creatures were just new additions to the gerbils’ family.

One of the strongest motivations for teachers is that their lessons will be remembered. Sometimes, though, it’s the students who are able to put lessons into words their peers will understand. As my eighth-grade algebra teacher explained to us the fundamentals of the x/y axis, a classmate in the back of the room loudly observed, “Y is for ‘yup,’ which rhymes with ‘up.’” Our teacher simply rolled her eyes and thanked him for his contribution, but ever since then, I’ve known which is across and which is up and down by remembering that “Y is for ‘yup.’”

In middle school my best friend and I spent as much time together as possible. We shared a locker even though we didn’t have to (a very tiny locker that had to hold twice the amount books, winter coats, backpacks, plus my violin case). We had several classes together and during the parts of the day when we weren’t together, we used study hall to write notes. We could waste no time in informing each other about what embarrassing thing we did at lunch, or what project was killing us, or what one of our crushes said during the previous period. I know I’m not setting the best example, but rest assured we were still good students, completed our work on time and were never the kind of kids who had to be separated because of talking. And at an age where you can be obsessed with something one day and hate it the next, or the fact that distance, college and growing up can alter those relationships you thought were so crucial as a kid, we can look back on middle school, still best friends after 20 years, and realize it was partly bearable because we had each other.


Favorite Science Class Memories Thu, 24 Oct 2013 18:55:48 +0000 We all know the saying, “Reading, writing and arithmetic.” But what about science? And while we love the places books can transport us to, or how important math skills are when we need to mentally crunch some quick numbers, biology and chemistry classes shed new light on things in our daily lives that we take for granted. With that in mind, here are some of our favorite science class memories.

MaryKate, right, and her best friend, who will be less than thrilled to see this photo on the Internet.

In my middle school years I dissected a frog and spent a summer memorizing the periodic table, but the thing that stuck with me the most was our photo lab. Our science teacher, Mr. Lapp, was into photography and taught any student interested how to develop prints. For a small fee, we’d get a roll of black and white film and a borrowed camera. Once Mr. Lapp developed the film, we had a roll of negatives to experiment with all year long. Every week he gave us a free period to work on whatever science projects we wanted, and for my friends and me, that usually meant a trip to the darkroom. Our skills were less than perfect (see above), but we experimented with dodging and burning, enlargements and overlapping negatives to create brand new images, all before putting them in Dektol and fixer solutions (I’ll remember those names – and their smells – the rest of my life) to solidify our amateur creations.

Later, in my high school photography classes, I realized our system was simplified for middle school, but looking back it was a fantastic pairing of art and science that I wish more public schools had today. It was a heck of a lot of fun, and time in that photo lab is still recounted between me and my friends today. And in the days before ubiquitous camera phones, this was true analog photography – no Instagram filter required – and an excuse to carry a camera around school. We captured terrible haircuts, questionable fashion and candid moments that I wouldn’t trade for anything.


During high school, my favorite subjects were English and History. And yet, some of my greatest memories come from science class. I was lucky to attend a school that heavily emphasized hands-on lab experiments. I also have a parent who is a scientist by trade, and who pushed me to take advanced science classes. Often, I felt out of place among my naturally science-minded classmates, but many of those lab experiments have really stuck with me.

Far from a fan of slimy creatures, I will never forget spending an entire week during marine biology class dissecting a small shark. I think it took me until day three to actually touch the thing. The formaldehyde smell and somewhat dehydrated skin of the shark really gave me pause. Luckily, my lab partners had been willing (perhaps excited) to handle the shark up to that point, and I was more than happy to take notes for all of us. On day three, though, my teacher persuaded me to finally get my hands dirty. Had he not, I never would’ve discovered that our shark was carrying nine fetuses! I like to think that must be some kind of marine biology class record.

It seems those types of extreme experiences are what going to school is all about. While a career in biology didn’t turn out to be my path, I’m grateful that I had a chance to try it out first hand.

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Our 4 Favorite Banned Books Mon, 23 Sep 2013 21:17:57 +0000 It’s Banned Books Week, so to celebrate, we’re defending some of our favorite divisive books. Conventional wisdom suggests that banning a book makes people all the more likely to read it and see what the fuss is all about (whether that creates profits for the authors is debatable). Conventional wisdom also suggests that a student body or library is not going to be corrupted by a single book (or many books), regardless of whether that book is Catcher in the Rye, Lady Chatterley’s Lover or Captain Underpants. As Oscar Wilde said, “All art is immoral.” So with that, here are some of our favorite banned books.

Alice Walker’s The Color Purple made a big impression on my teenage self. Filled with controversial and often hard-to-swallow topics like gender roles, women’s rights, racism, incest and faith, one could easily be dissuaded by the back-cover overview. But, despite the heavy storylines, I found this book comforting. Set in the southern US in the 1930s – not a good time for black people or women – we follow the life of Celie. She meets and moves past just about every challenge you can imagine, and some you probably can’t. But the substance of the story for me was not overcoming hardship; it was the sense of a community of women who cared for and empathized with each other. Thrown into circumstances that must be simply endured, the book demonstrates the value of a friend.

I read Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted a month ago and was struck by the lucidity she brought to describing mental illness and her institutionalization at the age of 18. The book is supremely readable and intriguing where it could have gotten bogged down with medical jargon and regret. Though the memoir is set in the 1960s, it could appeal to today’s teens since they’re the same age as the story’s protagonists and Kaysen tackles relatable (albeit uncomfortable) topics like freedom, conformity and suicide. And since it’s a book about teenagers, it has a lot of swear words, drug use – mostly doctor-mandated but some recreational – and frank and occasionally graphic talk of sex. The content caused controversy in schools nationwide, most famously in 2008 when teachers ripped out pages before giving the book to their students. (We all know that trying to shield teenagers from cursing, sex and drugs always has the desired effect of keeping them the unsullied, respectful young things teenagers are meant to be.) Luckily, the books were later replaced with editions that had all the pages intact.

His name is Robert Lawrence Stine. Yep, you may have guessed it; I’m talking about the famed children’s author R.L. Stine. And, to my surprise, his Goosebumps series is listed on the American Library Association’s list of Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009. I’ll admit it – I’ve read his books. No, I didn’t read that many. I’m no connoisseur of Stine’s works, but, you know, I did leaf through a couple of his scary-for-adolescents stories, and I liked ‘em! His Ghosts of Fear Street series was also solid, bringing about one of my favorites, Hide and Shriek, in which a local ghost is particularly fond of Randy Clay, the new girl in town. The neighborhood kids’ game of choice is hide-and-seek – in the cemetery. And if Randy gets tagged by the ghost, then she will turn into the latest sad spook, hanging around until she can tag the next unfortunate victim. Ghosts, as you might guess, are pretty good at hide-and-seek; so, for preteens, this text keeps things tense. As one Google reviewer put it, “This w0z a reallllly co0l bo0k!!!!!!!!!!!” I agree!

One of my favorite books, Fahrenheit 451, has been repeatedly banned over the years, possibly becoming history’s greatest example of unintended irony. The story centers on a “fireman” who works for a totalitarian government bent on burning all books, no matter their content. During the course of his work, he eventually starts stashing books away so he can read them, causing deep conflicts with both his wife and employer that eventually end in bloodshed. The plot covers, both subtly and overtly, themes of censorship, totalitarian government, freedom of thought and even the dangers of an illiterate society. However, instead of teaching students and helping guide them through the tough questions about these topics, some schools tried to ban the book based on its offensive language and depictions of burning The Bible. Talk about missing the point.

Kurt Vonnegut, author of the perennially banned Slaughterhouse-Five, put his feelings on banning books best in his letter to a school board member who had recently burned Vonnegut’s books in the school’s furnace:

“If you were to bother to read my books, to behave as educated persons would, you would learn that they are not sexy, and do not argue in favor of wildness of any kind. They beg that people be kinder and more responsible than they often are. It is true that some of the characters speak coarsely. That is because people speak coarsely in real life. Especially soldiers and hardworking men speak coarsely, and even our most sheltered children know that. And we all know, too, that those words really don’t damage children much. They didn’t damage us when we were young. It was evil deeds and lying that hurt us.”