This post was written on Thursday, February 17th during Spirit Week.
One of the 7th graders looked up at me this morning and asked, “Do I look like a hippie?” I thought for a moment, looking at all the bright colors of her wildly mismatched t-shirt, skirt, leggings and heels, the big plastic sunglasses, and the feathers in her hair and around her neck, and responded, “You look like a hippie on her way back from Las Vegas.” She smiled and laughed, along with the other students in the room, themselves dressed in various odd combinations of clothes. Well, it was “Would you still be my friend if I dressed like this?!” day.
Usually, the third week in February is the toughest of the entire school year. Energy is low, all the negative effects of winter seem to be piling up without any visible reminders of the upsides, and people’s natural good will is often stretched beyond recognition. This year, however, it feels more like mid-December. With each passing day of Spirit Week, most people seem increasingly relaxed, happier, cheerier. It doesn’t hurt that we start with Pajama Day (“OMG! My favorite day of the year!”), but I’ve also never seen quite so many middle schoolers involved in Twin Day (including several students who spontaneously decided their clothing might not match but that they were fraternal twins), it seemed like nearly everybody on campus was in SBS clothing (or at least blue and white) on Wednesday and now…well, it’s today.
Today, I’ve chosen to be Goth, and decided after some deliberation to just go for it and include the black eyeliner and fingernail polish. Yesterday, I came as a very spirited SBS field hockey player, one of what I had thought were going to be “the kilted hordes” (according to an emailed Faculty and Staff Announcement) but which turned out to be Rebecca, Mr. Bogel, and me. People’s reactions have been fascinating, from fist-pumping and high fives to smiles and laughter to indifference to momentary confusion and/or arched eyebrows. When I spoke to one of my students during a class, she started to laugh. “Is it what I said or what I’m wearing?” I asked. She laughed harder and rested her forehead on one hand, shaking it. “I don’t know!” she said. This during a week when dressing outrageously is the expectation. It all made me think.
“Would you still be my friend if I dressed like this?” translates from the original teenager into “Would you still like me if I showed who I really was?” Today, for me and for most kids, it’s only a temporary question. Here, we do our best to support each student in becoming her own, true best self. It is who we are. The middle school team spends countless hours looking out for the students and how each one is meshing with the community, making plans where we see need. The students look out for each other as well, and are often willing to come to us if they have concerns. So kids here tend to feel secure and well cared for.
But some kids, at some times, in some places, feel as though they are on their guard every moment of every day. Life is full of unexpected opportunities to learn, and for several split-seconds, I had walked in the footsteps of people for whom the question never really goes away.
In ten minutes, the middle schoolers are going to flood upstairs with their wonderful, overwhelming energy and throw themselves into rehearsal for tomorrow’s Color Wars skit. Joining them, I will once again immerse myself in the positive, playful spirit of the week. But somewhere back there, now and forever, will be this moment of reflection and a renewed sense of mission to work for the day when no one, anywhere, has to wonder who will be their friend if they show who they truly are.
– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean