Local church leaders reflect on the issue of middle school ‘habits’

Paulina Diaz, General Features podcaster

The bell rings and students push themselves into the crowded halls of Red Oak Middle School, each one trudging a single step closer to their destination. But the halls are filled with more than just the sounds of shuffling feet.

Sounds of anxiety can be heard among backpacks rustling with unfinished assignments and mouths teaming with crude jokes. Girls shed a few tears as they whine about recent breakups and the not-so-great qualities of everyone around them. But is any of this really necessary? Or better yet — is it acceptable?

Of course, when morals and ethics are up for debate, what better place to find the answers than from those who spend the majority of their time contemplating morals and ethics–local religious leaders.

From class to class

Of all the rowdy mess that floods the halls, what issue would be more fitting to start with than with the one that nobody talks about: Secrets.


Hiding secrets has always caused controversy among students. Seventh grader Lauren White said such behavior only leads to “bad things.” 

“Hiding secrets just leads to fights and people getting confused and upset,” White said.

But Jack Ables, a pastor at local Eastridge Baptist Church, has a different opinion.  

“I think sometimes that it’s wise to not tell everything that you know,” Ables explained. Ables also believes that the most vital part of a secret is timing.

“It’s not only important to say the truth,” Ables added, “but to know the most helpful time to share it.”

Controversial as it may be, hiding secrets is not the only moral issue that students encounter as they walk the halls of ROMS. Middle school dating, for instance, draws much attention, and Dina Rolen, the youth minister at Saint Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Waxahachie, is quick to dismiss the idea.

“I understand crushes. When I was in middle school, we would say we were “going together” or that we were “going out” when we were not going anywhere,” Rolen said with a laugh. “But in today’s world, kids are pushed to be more mature at a younger age. It’s a rush that our world thinks is acceptable when it really puts too much pressure on younger kids while they have the rest of their adult life to deal with pressure and responsibility.”

In the classroom

As the bell rings, moral problems continue to pop up in the lives of students, particularly in the classroom. Procrastination, for instance, prevents students from doing their schoolwork; in a recent poll,  90 percent of ROMS students found that behavior unacceptable while 10 percent consider it OK under certain conditions.

James Speelman, the coordinator for ministries at Saint Joseph, understands the battle students face when it comes to using their time wisely.

“Oh, I’m good at it. Is it a good habit to have? No, but it’s something that I struggle with. It’s usually procrastinating on something I don’t want to do,” Speelman said.

Speelman also talked about how procrastination can affect Catholics specifically.

“It’s mainly about self control, like going to the dentist or even Reconciliation,” Speelman explained, referring to the holy Catholic sacrament. “You know it’s good for you, but you waste it.”

Although 90 percent of students say “no” to procrastination, Rolen has an unusually positive take on the issue.

“My immediate reaction is to say ‘no’ because I’m a terrible procrastinator,” Rolen said. “But I have to say that there are times that because I waited when doing something, it actually worked out for the better.”

But as complex as it may be, procrastination is only the beginning of a student’s problems. As soon as the teacher begins to scold the student for their irresponsibility, the majority of students, 80 percent of them according to the survey, retort with their own carefully detailed excuses. And Rolen seems to have her own view about how far one “I’m sorry” can go.

“I have learned that if you just say ‘You know what? I messed up and I’m sorry, that defuses so much bickering and bad feelings. But if you say ‘Well, oh, I had this and I had that’ or ‘I didn’t do it because…’ that just builds negative feelings and negative reactions every time,” Rolen said.


When the final bell rings

With a sigh of relief, students rush out of ROMS with an “I-can’t-believe-the-day-is-finally-over” expression. But the ethical struggles are not over yet. Social media, families and other out-of-school relations require the students to question their morals as well. Not to mention, big world issues such as politics and religion are also up for debate. But, in the words of Ables, all of the moral issues found in school are a core foundation for the morally complex issues of the outside world.

“I have no need to let my voice be heard there.” Ables said. “I speak it as clearly as I can in my family and in our church, but those are the topics that someone is always raising. Someone is always wanting to know. But these questions are not ones that we deal with a lot. We hear the language and the insincerity and the sarcasm. And I think these are land mines in our relationships, in our friends and family, that we need to consider.”

Background noise courtesy of Christine Mullins, teacher, and Zoe Silas, student.