Aya Academy of Excellence

The Outsiders

A recent fracas with my eldest daughter and an extracurricular activity she was involved in illuminated a fact to me that had for long been hidden: my child is an outsider.  The implications for a preteen being an outsider – not merely on the outside of the ‘in’ crowd but an outsider of the whole crowd are vast.  This personal turn of events, just on the heels of another incident of school violence, was not left unnoticed by me.  Outsiders, as they enter middle high school school, can become even more isolated and that feeling can be destructive to themselves and others.

As an educator, I have seen the Outsider phenomenon played out  numerous times. Just last year, I had a lovely young lady in one of my classes that was snubbed by her peers and some of her teachers.  She was smart, helpful, the proverbial ‘nerd’ and the death knell for all character idiosyncrasies – needy.  She was socially desperate.  The kind of kid who had no friends, wanted friends but wore that awful scent of ‘eau du desperate’ which lowered her social capital amongst her middle school peers.  I noticed.

As an educator, I intervene when kids are struggling academically and socially.  For this young lady, and others, I made sure that all of the kids ‘played nice’ and ‘talking’ about each other was not a part of our classroom culture. For the latter, it was never allowable for kids to roll their eyes, snort or speak ‘down’ to others. Realistically, I know that this meant that the teasing which she received didn’t abate throughout the school day.  Lunchtime, classroom transitions throughout the hallway and classrooms of other teachers were not under my purview.  But within the four walls of my lil domain, teasing was not allowed. Ever. The result was prayerfully a safe space for this young lady for 50 minutes during her school day.

As a parent, I am painfully aware that I cannot control the actions and attitudes of my child’s peers.  At home, we discuss the teasing she has experienced and with as much of a stoic face as I can muster, I listen.  We talk about ways she can cope.  In recent months, I have role played with her how to stand up for herself and speak up against the teasing.  She is soft.  Her ‘talking back’ has a Cowardly Lion flavor to it that assuredly has not resulted in our desired outcomes. Behind the scenes, I have communicated with her teachers when the teasing has brought her to tears.  I know from experience that some teachers allow teasing amongst students because it has become an acceptable practice with students and adults tend to be dismissive about how it impacts kids. The ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘girls just don’t get along’ is a pervasive attitude that corrodes schools as spaces that should be havens for kids.

Last year, I approached her guidance counselor, there are two for 900 students.  I asked if there was a group for kids like my daughter.  How great would it be if kids without friends had a chance to meet up on occasion.  Under the supervision of a professional trained to identify social milestones and aware of strategies to help kids develop interpersonal skills, such a group would be dynamic. She said no. And further discussion didn’t spark within her the necessity to start one either.  Afterall, she is an ‘A’ student, like so many other Outsiders.  Sadly, schools expend a lot of oil on the squeaky wheel.  Outwardly disruptive kids or failing students are more prone to receive interventions.  Schools sometimes do not exhibit that they have a heart.

In my daughter’s after school activity, the same dynamic played out.  It was much of the same after the school bell rang.  Watching her play by herself in a room full of kids was too much to bear.

I feel as if I need to write a conclusion.  But that’s awkward considering that my nine-year old still feels so very alone.  For the last several weeks she has complained that ‘no one talks to me’ in her extracurricular activity except for one girl.  And since that girl is not always there the 90 minutes is very lonely.  As a parent, I grappled with keeping her in her activity. This riddle of sorts, the peer-to-peer dynamic and pecking order of kids is hard to figure out.  I eventually withdrew her from the extracurricular activity.  In the immortal words of Ray Bolger, I can only hope to spare her some of the trouble and pain.  For now, I guess the role plays will continue and maybe the result will be the development of a burgeoning Broadway star.


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