It’s her first day of second grade. She is excited. She is wearing her first store bought dress. She is going to an all-white school rather than the Indian school, and she has a lunch pail. Little does she know how important this day would be for her.
Dropped off at her new classroom with 31 other children, the teacher introduces her to the class as “the new girl from an Indian school.” Absolute silence. During the day only two kids talk to her, Bobby, who would become her champion, and sweet gentle Valerie.
The rest of the week was pretty much the same, more isolation. By the next week her classmates had this mantra, “Go back to the Indians! You’re not wanted here!” One of the boys called her a name that she had never heard before. He said, “You’re a retard!” Her big comeback was, “No, you’re a retard!” Promptly raising his hand, he told the teacher on her. Mrs. Cornwell was not interested in knowing why or how this happened. She immediately grabbed her by the ear, led her to the girls bathroom and washed her mouth out with soap.
In third grade the situation became physical when the girls got her in a circle on the playground and began shoving her around, calling her names, and hitting her. Her younger brother ran to her rescue, threatening to beat up the next girl to push her.
In Elementary and Junior High she was told by her parents that the kids were just jealous. Of what? Her hand-me-down clothes? Her poverty? She was also told that if you develop only one friend in your lifetime consider yourself blessed. How is one supposed to develop friendships when your reputation is being torn apart, and when some of the teachers participate in the torture?
Each day was a nightmare filled with the dread of going into the classroom to “learn.” Oh, she learned. She learned that if you were popular, if you sided with the popular kids, if you were athletic, or if you were wealthy you would be so powerful that you could do anything you wanted to anybody and adults would look the other way. She learned that some teachers seemed to take vicarious pleasure in watching students torment other kids.
There’s more to be learned.
If you are the victim of school violence, harassment or abuse, you can do something about it.
1. Do not be shamed into silence. Tell your parents or a trusted adult.
2. Say, “Stop!” and then walk away.
3. Find someone that will have your back. Walk to class together, eat lunch and hang out during the dreaded PE class.
4. Keep a record of who and what is said. Keep harassing emails, texts or photos as proof.
5. Tell your parent/guardian so they can talk with the school.
6. Make a life outside of school by finding a hobby, studying and focusing on your future.
7. Keep talking with someone (adult) about how you feel.
8. Realize that you are worthy and special. Those other kids don’t see it, and they just choose to be mean.
So how did things turn out for the little girl from the Indian school?
She chose to focus on who she wanted to become and channeled all that fear and sadness into laying a foundation for her future. She studied hard and got great grades. She was elected class president twice in high school (she was organized). She edited the school’s newspaper and yearbook. These experiences helped her to earn scholarships for college.
She also learned that she could only control her thoughts, attitude and behaviors. She could not control others’ behaviors, attitudes, or thoughts.
I know this story too well. Sometimes it’s hard to talk about. By the way, I am still friends with Bobby.