This week’s blog post comes from an anonymous author writing about an anonymous club that is working to empower students and spread positivity around the building. You’ll see why the author chooses to remain anonymous and there is an opportunity for you to reach out and collaborate with them at the end of the post!
September 11, 2001
I remember walking through the bookstore at my university, grabbing some textbooks and pens, and hearing the cashier talking to another student about a plane that had just crashed into the World Trade Center. The cashier was telling the student that this had happened once before at The Empire State Building, and it was probably nothing more than an unfortunate accident. News of the event was being broadcast on the radio, but I remember not being able to hear too well no matter where I moved to try and get a better listen. When I left the bookstore I stopped by the cafeteria to grab something to eat before heading to the bus stop to go back to my room. By the time I got to my dorm the other plane had already hit, and it was clear to everyone exactly what was going on.
Moments after I turned on the T.V. my phone rang, It was my dad calling to tell me that he was heading down to what would eventually be referred to as ground zero. It was supposed to be his day off, but as a New York City Detective he was needed, along with almost every police officer, firefighter and paramedic the city had to offer. In that moment, I felt helpless. I wanted to do something, I wanted to go with him, I wanted to enlist in the Army, I wanted to make sense of all of this, but I couldn’t. I wanted to make change, but how?
August 11, 2017
A few weeks ago I was sitting on my couch scrolling through Twitter when I started to see the images of the protests that were occurring on the campus of the University of Virginia. Like many of you, I was horrified by what was going on. Torches, violence, Nazi flags and derogatory signs in picture after picture as I scrolled through my feed. Every few tweets there would be a video of people chanting and yelling, trying to belittle those who were not like them.
The most chilling of the chants “You, will not, replace us!” echoed through my mind in an unforgettable cadence. Then, that same feeling that I had 16 years before came over me. I wanted to do something, I wanted people to see that most times, all of these perceived differences are based on misguided ideologies. I wanted to spread love and unity, not hate and division. The only difference is, this time, I knew I had a platform to do just that. Maybe not to those specific people, but to some people.
Many of you are probably expecting me to start divulging all the ways I create a positive class climate in my health room. Explain how I discuss social justice and differentiate between equality and equity, while exploring the importance of each. How I address moments of insensitivity, bullying or “joking”. And you would be wrong, kind of. This story is slightly different, and will also explain why I am writing this blog anonymously.
In 2013, I started a secret society at my school, for now let’s call it the Yellow Coats (not the real name). The Coats started as a way to recognize students in our building who displayed genuine care and consideration for their classmates, who were selfless and who led by example. In addition, the members of the society were tasked with spreading joy throughout the building however they saw fit during the school year. They helped to run a “Minute to Win It” night to raise money for a classmate whose house had caught fire. They went into classrooms before school to leave treats on every desk and write a supportive message on the board. They observed their peers all week, and on Friday announced a citizen of the week. They put a gift certificate to “Super Bowls” (a small restaurant chain specializing in acai bowls that the kids at my school LOVE to go to) under a random chair at graduation. They did all of this and more, while remaining totally anonymous.
No one knows what seniors are in the Coats until they are revealed every year at graduation. There is always a buzz in the crowd right before that announcement, and that is part of the power behind being invisible. There is almost a tangible interest in the Yellow Coats, with the mystery of their existence driving some of that interest. Students wonder what they are going to do next and try to figure out who they are. It is that constant interest and wonderment that amplifies the clubs voice, when they decide to be heard. There are no faces or names to this club, just messages and actions. The substance stands on its own. It is not about notoriety, credit, prestige or building a college resume, it is about helping those in need, spreading love and having a positive influence.
Obviously doing everything they do in secret is difficult, and if you want to know more about the how, you can contact me through Andy. For now, I want to talk about the what, as in the “what’s next?” I want to take this society and broaden the scope of what we do with it this year. Aside from what I do in my health room, the Yellow Coats can be the vehicle to spread messages of racial, religious, cultural and socio-economic acceptance and understanding. Something we need a lot of right now.
I will meet with the society on the second day of school this year to brainstorm how we can accomplish this new goal. One vision I have is a social justice bulletin board run by the students in the society. Each week the theme of the board will change to coincide with current events or pressing issues. For example, I was listening to a gentleman who was at President Trumps rally in Phoenix, explain why he brought a sign that said “BLM (Black Lives Matter) are the True Racists”. The man noted that black lives aren’t the only lives that matter, and if he had a sign that said “White Lives Matter” he would be labeled a racist. The misconceptions surrounding Black Lives Matter are astounding. People still do not understand that at the root of the BLM name, there is an implied also. Black Lives Matter ALSO. I feel that displays like this one can not only help to deepen understandings, but prove to be powerful for the students that see it, and empowering for the students that create it.
In truth, it doesn’t matter what my ideas are because this is truly the kids club. However, I would love for the people reading this to do two things. First, help us brainstorm what we can do with our society to act on our original mission and spread our newfound messages. And second, help us to spread them! The Coats create a buzz around the school in a positive way and I would love to see more health teachers across the country start up their own chapter. Strength in numbers, right? Our kids are inundated with negativity and we do a lot in our health rooms to offset what they are exposed to the best we can, and this society is just another way to reinforce positive messages, and educate our kids. It’s not Mr. Smith or Mrs. Jones telling them, it’s not their mom or dad telling them, it’s a group of their peers telling them, whomever they may be.
*I wrote this blog anonymously because I do not want one of my students to stumble upon it and find out that I am the staff member behind the Coats. If you want to contact me, or just want to know who wrote this, just contact Andy.*
So I thought I’d try something different for this week’s #slowchat. Here is the link to a Padlet board where you can post questions to the author, (see below for the embedded Padlet board).
If you like this post, you’ll also like:
The Power of Compliments – How to harness compliments and make it easier for your students to pass compliments to each other with the #freecomplimentsfriday download.
Thank You – In which I thank those who have helped me on my teaching journey to America. Thank you.