“Talks excessively.” No matter the awesome grades I received on my report card, the comment section was always filled with that remark.
I may have loved learning but I spent a decent amount of my time in elementary school outside in the hallway doing my work solo. Adult me is mature enough now to admit that my behavior took a while to work up to talks excessively because of my pattern of interruptive outbursts, “hey look at me” clownery and that one time when I threw a chair towards a teacher. I didn’t hit them and that wasn’t elementary me’s proudest moment but when you’re being bullied by your peers for things you have no control over before you can even get to know yourself, that was all I knew. Kids are cruel. My self-esteem was being destroyed before I could even build a foundation. I drew pictures, read books, and daydreamed at my desk in the hallway. Sometimes I would even miss the holiday parties because my behavior was unacceptable. I don’t know why little old me in my shiny big bubble winter coat couldn’t find the words to tell an adult that my feelings were hurt and that’s why I carried so much frustration. In elementary school, they teach you a lot but they don’t quite touch on emotional maturity and intelligence.
It wasn’t until middle school, technically intermediate school. At Rankin Intermediate someone in the staff saw something in me and recommended me for a new pilot program where students would learn how to peer mediate and take a trip down the land of conflict resolution. It got me out of some of my regular classes that bored me to tears so I was excited and I felt special. I wasn’t in Gifted and reflecting I feel like HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) might have been the opposite but we got to play the Oregon Trail so we didn’t care. I wasn’t getting as bullied as much by the time I made it to Rankin because a decent amount of elementary school I would come home and tell my mother what happened. She fought a lot of my battles for me and I’m forever grateful. I’ll never forget going home crying because one of my peers threw my shoe into traffic in front of everyone at the bus stop after school. My mom marched right up to their house with me in tow and cursed out their mother. She was and always will be my blessing. When people would pick on my complexion she was always there to tell me, “the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.” I had no idea what that meant.
This peer mediation program was pitched as a time to help us help our classmates deal with conflicts but the administration was sneaky. If I took anything from Rankin Intermediate and that class that took up several weeks of my class time it was how to resolve a conflict and deal with anger. We would learn about different de-escalation techniques, we would answer some questions about them, and then we would act them out with our peers. I say this administration was sneaky because it wasn’t until years later after I got the certificate and thick binder full of everything that I learned that I realized, we weren’t taught that for our peers. They (the administration) were teaching us how to de-escalate conflicts even within ourselves. For example, after that program when I would get angry I would go through a series of questions to figure out if it was real anger. What happened? Why was I feeling the way that I was feeling? Last but most importantly was, would acting on said emotions make me or the situation better? Most of the time the answer to that question was no!
I don’t know who saw something in me to see that I was trying. Like my grades were good to the point where I realized years later that I wasn’t being challenged enough. I thank whomever it was but that emotional intelligence crash course was what I needed to add to my toolbox for junior high school.
By junior high school, the bullying ended. I had a different hair color every week and a wardrobe that said quite a few things. One day I was rocking my favorite pair of jeans that set off the metal detector every time I wore them because they were distressed bell-bottoms with humongous safety pins all the way up the sides. The next I was dressing in plaid skirts and graphic tees. Without emotional maturity, in my toolbox, I wouldn’t be able to rock different hair colors and express myself through fashion without caring what people thought. Junior high me might have had too much confidence that came with problems but that middle school program helped me navigate through my mistakes as Junior high me still screwed up. She screwed up so badly that my junior high diary could be New York Times’ Best Seller.
I almost made it through my entire junior high and high school career without one altercation but I didn’t know that the bus stop was considered school property until you went home, especially if it wasn’t your bus stop. I can’t imagine the other trouble or the road I would be on if it wasn’t for “peer mediation.” High school was mostly teachers frustrated with me because I would finish my classwork and homework in class to write novels to share with my classmates. I actually got in trouble for taking the notebook back that my teacher took from me. I was apparently supposed to sit at my desk and twiddle my thumbs. Reflecting back, I probably needed to be in someone’s AP class but if I would’ve done that I probably wouldn’t have discovered my love for writing novels.
I tell people all the time when they question my Woodland Hills Experience that Woodland Hills prepared me for the world on a social level. Oh! I’m still awkward but at least I’m not angry anymore. I’m a professional optimist that can navigate conflict before jumping to anger right away and it took quite a journey to get here especially in a time before GPS.
Who would’ve thought that angry kid who got stuck in her shiny bubble coat and was bullied for years by her peers for being darker than others, would grow up to be a leader and a professional optimist?