“There is value in having no child feel rejected and invisible in their own school. If I can help it, none of them will.“
A story by a Loveland resident presented by Loveland Magazine in collaboration with the Loveland Diversity Advisory Board
A sharp pain startled me. Something had pelted my head. Whatever it was ricocheted to the floor with a hollow plink. I rubbed the back of my skull and looked around trying to determine what had hit me. As I did, I took another sharp blow, this time to the cheek, followed again by a distinct plinking sound. The next shot hit my shoulder. Then my neck. Finally one of the projectiles flew past my face and I was able to identify what was being hurled toward me.
It was a penny.
I looked in the direction from which the projectiles originated and saw a lunch table of my fifth grade peers laughing, trying to look inconspicuous in the conspicuous way guilty ten year-olds have a tendency to do.
“Did she pick them up?” one whispered.
“Shhhhh! She’s looking over here,” the other said, waving his hand in the universal sign to keep it down.
I sheepishly rubbed my cheek, which by now was smarting and red. I looked down at the floor where several pennies lay in a telltale scatter at my feet.
Another sharp pain.
“Pick up the pennies, Jew,” someone from the table jeered, just loud enough for me to hear.
I felt the tears welling behind my eyes and willed them not to escape. No one would see me cry. Despite my best intentions, a tear leaked out, betraying me as it rolled down my injured cheek. Its saltiness stung against the broken skin.
The perpetrators weren’t the school’s “bad” kids. They weren’t the “troublemakers.” They weren’t the kids who wadded up the stiff brown paper towels, wet them, and threw them up on the bathroom ceiling where they’d stick and harden like cement.
These were the kids who raised their hands to read aloud from the social studies textbook when the teacher asked for volunteers.They attended PSR at the church down the street from my house where a giant tree sprouted pink blossoms each spring before dropping her petals in a sudden heap. These were the kids who, if I’d told a teacher, would elicit the response of ‘Well now that doesn’t sound like them. I’m sure they meant nothing by it. Have you tried ignoring it?’
The lone tear fell onto the lunch table, a solitary puddle on the faux wood facade. Pennies? What does that even mean? I pondered this question silently, focusing intently on the fallen tear to prevent more from spilling out. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I never mentioned it again.
This was the first time it happened, but it wouldn’t be the last.
At ten years old, I didn’t understand the deeply anti-Semitic implications of these kids’ actions. As an adult, I know they picked up on these stereotypes somewhere. I feel confident that the hateful message was learned outside of school, however subtly transmitted. Maybe slips of the tongue by their parents. Maybe from the innuendos presented in the news channel their family watched. Maybe from friends whose families held biases. But what about what they learned–or didn’t learn–while they were in school? What was the message there?
There was nary a mention of Jewish people in my elementary school. Despite a small population of Jewish students, the curriculum had settled into a comfortable rhythm they saw no need to update. I remember clearly how each year my teachers were startled when they learned that I didn’t have a Christmas tree.
“What do you mean?” my second grade teacher asked incredulously. “Everyone has a Christmas tree,” And so it went.
I accepted my lot early. I dutifully completed my “Letter to Santa” assignments each December prior to “Christmas Break” where I’d take home the ornament I had to make for my non-existent tree. In the spring, I mustered up fake gusto to color oil pastel Easter egg cut-outs. I completed the multiplication worksheets asking how much tinsel Jane needs to trim her Christmas tree and conducted the science experiments on decorating Easter eggs with various substances, bright red beet juice staining my hands for days.
The message coming from the school was clear: one specific religion was the universal norm. Obviously, I was different. That made me a target.
I share this with you to illustrate that representation matters. While some may disagree, they are likely the ones who have never been in a situation where they were the “other.”
Representation doesn’t mean anyone has to alter their own convictions or feel put on the defensive. It doesn’t mean one side is right and the other is wrong, that there’s a hidden agenda, or that any one lifestyle is being attacked.
What it does do is allow students to learn that the world is full of people whose beliefs, values, and opinions differ from their own. It means the students who aren’t part of the status quo feel a sense of belonging. At its best, it fosters mutual understanding and civility. Representation neither promotes one lifestyle, race, or religion, nor detracts from another. All representation does is to allow students to see that there are different ways of being and that there is validity in who we ALL are.
While I cannot change my school experience, we owe it to our own kids the opportunity to explore diversity through equal and prominent representation. If you’re a minority, there is value in seeing someone like yourself; if you’re in the majority, there is value in seeing that there’s an actual living, feeling human being behind the label. Most importantly, there is value in having no child feel rejected and invisible in their own school. If I can help it, none of them will.
This narrative is brought to you by the Loveland Diversity Advisory Board (LDAB) and will be a continuing series of stories in collaboration with Loveland Magazine that help humanize abstract experiences of the diverse people in the Loveland community. We hope that through representation, people can see that Loveland is more diverse than meets the eye.
Some writers may wish to remain anonymous, and that is fine. We will present them as a story “by a Loveland Resident as told to LDAB.”
The Loveland Diversity Advisory Board (LDAB) is a collective impact initiative that serves in partnership and collaboration with Loveland, in working to create a more inclusive and
In addition to community collaboration and outreach, DAB seeks partnership with the Loveland City School District in providing recommendations to enrich our Loveland Tigers’ access to a safe, equitable, educational environment which celebrates diverse perspectives, identities, cultures, and worldviews.
We will encourage standards of practice that promote strong and resilient communities, while addressing community concerns regarding systemic inequities.
We will cultivate diverse educational opportunities to expand student experiences and worldviews so as to prepare them for success. We will value safety and humility so as to promote opportunities to build self-awareness and leadership skills, providing students with the chance to experience their authentic self.