I too, spent a couple decades in public education, mostly at the junior high level, and especially focused on myth and the Hero’s Journey in particular in literature classes. No surprise, my students (especially the 7th-graders) were generally a touch less skeptical than full-fledged adolescents in high school; I would often begin with a discussion of The Lion King, as something just about every student is familiar with that hits all the markers.
What I like about your analysis of the trajectory of student reactions is that it pretty much seems to apply to adults as well. I do notice the “sometimes mind-blowing personal connections to individual or cumulative stages of the Hero’s Journey” is often what seals the deal. It’s one thing to see Hollywood moviemakers applying the hero’s journey, but quite another when you recognize that dynamic playing out in your own life.