"Hillary is a moron!" "Hillary is a baby killer!" These words rang out through the halls this morning as I was greeting students before the bell rang. Several staff members over heard the pronouncement at the same time and looked at me with a sense of dread written all over their faces as the students filed into their classrooms. Their body language pleaded for me to do something. Anything.
It was time for the morning announcements. I stuck with the regular routine. "Today is wonderful Wednesday...our lunch choices are...Celebrating a birthday today is...tomorrow for United Way we are...Boys and girls, let me remind you of our school expectations. Be nice. Be safe. And work hard. Today in the halls I overheard some remarks that were not very nice about the the election. This is not ok and if you choose to not be nice, you will do a think sheet. Now please stand for the pledge of allegiance."
I continued my morning by conducting some observations as well as helping with a couple of students who were struggling with good behavior in their classrooms. I then went back to my office to try to catch up on some email. I received a message from a parent that was very concerned because their student was told on the bus (the day before) "I hope Trump gets elected because then you will have to go back to Mexico." Really? Really.
When I talked to the child who had experienced this, she was in tears. She related the story back to me through her tears and said, "Dr. Casey, my family is just trying to work. We are here legally. This boy does not always talk to me like this. He goes back and forth. Sometimes he is nice and sometimes he is not." I assured her that she was not going anywhere and that I appreciated her hard work and the work of her family. I told her I loved her and gave her a hug. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes and proclaimed, "you are the best principal."
Not thirty minutes later, as I was getting ready for a post observation conference, I got a call in the office. Could I please come down to 5th grade? Several students were crying and upset about the election. The teacher reported to me that some students were just having a hard time in general, some were afraid they would wake up and be deported, some were saying hateful things...the teacher wondered if they should have a class meeting...how much could she say? But the look in her eye was pleading with me to conduct a class meeting. I had ten minutes.
I asked the students to come to the gathering area on the floor. I noticed there were several swollen eyes and sad faces. I looked around. Such a beautifully diverse group. Some with families from Mexico, Sudan, South America, South Korea...They had written beautiful poetry together. They had shared intimate facts about their lives together. I bowed my head for a moment and prayed that I would have the right words that these frightened children needed to hear.
"Boys and girls, today on the announcements I reminded us of our school expectations. Be nice. Be safe. Work hard. And safe means more than new sidewalks, so we don't trip and fall and break something. It means more than keeping our hands to ourselves and solving our problems with our words, not our hands. It means our feelings should be safe, too. You have all been friends for a long time. You have shared about the world you hope for and the kind of humans you want to be. You have shared about the world you dream of. Remind me of that again."
Students shared that they wanted to be respectful, compassionate, caring and kind. I then went on to explain, "One of the greatest things about America is that we can all have our own opinions. Yes, we have freedom of speech. But that freedom of speech does not mean that you can hurt others. As a matter of fact, we practice this all the time. How many times during number talks have you said, 'I respectfully disagree?' You are all so good at this! There is a way for us to disagree with one another, in a respectful manner."
I went on to share, "Some of you are worried that as a result of the election, you won't be able to stay here. Well you are here legally and you have nothing to worry about. As a matter of fact, nothing here at our school is different than it was yesterday. I still expect you to be nice, be safe and work hard. I expect you to treat one another with respect and kindness and I expect us to be compassionate humans."
I saw the corners of mouths begin to turn up and eyes betrayed a sense of relief. I gave them the heart sign from the bottom of my heart and they laughed as they took solace in my words. I then promptly told them to get to work...and I loved them.
Today my heart is broken, but as I look at these children, my heart is full of hope. And even when a few parents came in the office spouting off their politics as if everyone would be in perfect agreement with them, I remain in that hope. "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them." No, we will not hinder them. We are their champions. And I still believe in a world where kindness, compassion and love win out.