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Deep Dive: LBJH

There is no Long Beach Junior High anymore. A couple years after I graduated, they moved the freshmen to the high school, and the sixth grade to the new Long Beach Middle School. But when I started seventh grade, it was at LBJH.

I remember there were all kinds of YA novels back then about starting junior high and the horrors of changing classes every hour and trying to make friends and avoiding the mean girls. Because it was a huge and intimidating change to move to junior high. We had six periods: English, Math, Science, History and two electives. I wanted to take Home Ec and Concert Choir but then I found out neither of those classes were available to seventh graders. I took General Music and Beginner's Band (clarinet) instead.

My today's standards I might have been considered a nerd because I wasn't into cool stuff. Really I was just a young and immature and naive child, because I wasn't into nerdy stuff either. Which in 1978 consisted of Star Wars. I had seen Star Wars; when we were making the actual move from Virginia to Mississippi we stopped overnight at a hotel - probably somewhere around South Carolina? - and my parents took us to see it at the theater. I didn't understand a bit of it.

My classmates were morphing into pre-teens but I was just...such a child. I wonder now if they were wearing name brand clothes. I don't remember name brands until Nike tennis shoes (ninth grade) and in seventh grade I was still wearing clothes made by my mother. It was hot in Mississippi, and our schools were not air conditioned. And we weren't allowed to wear shorts to school either. (Uphill both ways, I tell ya.) So handmade skirts seemed like a logical solution to my mom. And what did I care? I wasn't even mature enough to have an opinion about what I wore.

I had a couple of crushes on boys that year. It's laughable to think about it now. I guess it's a rite of passage to start finding yourself attracted to whatever gender you're attracted to. The crushes grew over the next three years until they developed into me full-on feeling sorry for myself because no boys ever liked me.

This is why teens try so hard to fit in, to be like the popular girls. Because we desperately need someone to like us so that we have some assurance of our worthiness. I'm just not sure where the popular girls come from. Someone has to come in with the confidence to be the person that everyone else wants to be. How does that even happen? I guess if I had the answer to that I could write the Popularity Book and make a million dollars.

But no boys liked me in junior high. And to be fair, there were probably lots of girls who did not have boyfriends yet in junior high. My junior high friends were Kim in seventh grade and then Daisey and Gina in eighth grade and also Laurie in ninth grade. Daisey was the only one of us that had a boyfriend in junior high.

My favorite junior high teacher was Ms. Peggy Peden. She was young and single with dark hair cut in a pixie. She taught me English in seventh grade and I liked her so much, I tried out for eighth grade journalism (school paper & yearbook) because she sponsored it. I did really well in her English class - at the end of the year I received an academic award for having the highest English class average. I also got the third-highest history class average.

(What I didn't know, was that there was a whole other stratum of students in what they called "advanced classes." They received awards separately. So I got awards for regular english and history class. Given my impressive performance in seventh grade, I was placed into all advanced classes in eighth grade. Which was great. I did okay. Never got any more awards though.)

Ms. Peden was cool and chic and funny and being a part of the journalism class was like being invited into a really cool clique. The class was first period. Ms. Peden had a portable classroom - specifically so that the journalism class wouldn't interrupt the academic classes with all of our uproarious morning behavior.

Halfway through my freshman year, Ms. Peden told us she was taking a job as a hotel manager on a Bahaman island. We all cried. It was super sad for us, but to be honest, a much better fit for her than teaching pimply junior high students.

When I was in junior high, Mrs. Edwards had responsibilities for both the high school and junior high choral music programs, so she taught my general music class. At the end of the school year was the Spring Show. Back in those days, when she was at both schools, the Spring Show was combined - two General Music classes, junior high Concert Choir, high school Concert Choir and Madrigals/Small Ensembles. My class performed three songs and Mrs. Edwards selected the top three singers to each do a solo - me and Joel and Elaine. I remember the first evening we rehearsed all together I finished my solo and all the high school choir kids cheered and clapped for me. It was such a huge rush.

I'm telling ya, the nerdy little girl was longing for acceptance and approval.

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