Joe’s Surprise

My darling Educators and parents, 

I’d like to share a conversation I once had with a very wise young man named Joe, age 17. Joe was a student with special needs who appeared on stage for the first time ever, in his first fashion show ever. Flights of Fancy was a fashion show program I developed in the Tacoma Public Schools featuring models with disabilities, utilizing able bodied students to assist in every other aspect of the production.  After the fashion show Joe confided to me of how afraid he was to appear on stage.  

He said, “I was afraid some regular students might boo!” 

“Why?” I asked. 

“Because if they are not in the spotlight, why would they care about me? Instead, Mrs. Hanna, they clapped and clapped and kept on clapping!” 

 Then an incredible glow radiated from Joe’s happy face as he said, 

“Mrs. Hanna, it was amazing to stand in the sunshine!”

 Darlings, I was quite overwhelmed by Joe’s sincere and heartfelt confession which was also bittersweet.

I thought about Joe’s expectation of being booed–What a terrible fear to live with! What a dreadful feeling to anticipate.  Being booed or otherwise humiliated at school is all too often a daily reality for students who are perceived to be “different” from the crowd.  Students who are unfairly judged because of their differences, whether a disability, awkwardness or the color of their skin, live in fear, dreading their next humiliation. Too often they retreat from others and from opportunities to participate. They give up trying to seek what they need: to be included. WE ALL NEED TO BE INCLUDED! 

We need to play, learn, and work with others.  

We need the same opportunities to shine that others have. 

My darlings, as the only black student in my class, I was constantly bullied because of the color of my skin. The continual barrage of insults affected my self-esteem and self-image.  The daily stress of anticipating humiliation affected my attention span and ability to stay focused in class. 

I survived, but did not thrive in school.  It does not have to be this way!

We can create a better experience for students today. 

Back to Joe. He was so brave to go out on stage, despite his fear!

And the audience clapped and clapped despite the fact that they were not, at the moment, the focus of attention.  

Students can learn to be thoughtful, considerate and kind when their natural compassion is brought forth with an opportunity to help others . They can learn to celebrate differences, instead of judging people unfairly and rejecting them out of fear. Likewise, students who have been bullied or lack confidence can have their self-esteem fortified by giving them the opportunity to shine! They can learn to step forward despite their fears.  

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