TRAVERSE CITY — The contrast between elementary and middle school can be striking.
The one-room sanctuary disappears into a swirl of scheduling and switching classrooms. Frank conversation on topics like bullying, cutting and “sexting” replace cuddlier cautions. Kids are bigger, schoolwork is more complicated and the pace picks up.
Robyn Hentschel, 12, spent the first two months of sixth grade blinking in amazement, she said.
“The first days, everything seemed so glamorous,” Hentschel said. “I didn’t see anyone I knew in the halls. The kids seemed so big. It was exciting. But my brain kept saying ‘something is missing.’”
It was the Pledge, she decided. Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, a comforting elementary school ritual, was not a part of her new day. But it wasn’t something Hentschel wanted to outgrow.
A little background: the blond Hentschel is naturally shy. She is the first to admit that she has trouble expressing herself, too. People around her learn not to rush in and supply the words. They give Hentschel space to work through her thoughts and communicate in her own way.
Building up the courage to talk to her teachers took time, Hentschel said. She tried twice, but forgot her flag in the car, she said.
One fall morning Hentschel got herself in position, flag in hand, and waited for the classroom door to open. She put a nervous smile on her face.
Sue Laisure opened the door and Hentschel asked the teacher if they could say the Pledge that morning.
Laisure was surprised, she said. The veteran teacher wasn’t sure what the rule was and figured the Pledge’s “under God” would require an administrative blessing. She said as much to Hentschel.
“I explained that we all have different religions, cultures and beliefs,” Laisure said. “We can’t step on other peoples’ toes or exclude anyone.”