It was a star. A simple star…one that would be drawn on your hand when you arrived at school…or not.

I remember waking up every morning. I didn’t care about my homework. I didn’t care about what we were going to do in school that day. I only cared about whether or not my hand would receive a star on it when I got to school.

The star was nothing special. It was a scribbled-on star in pen. Depending on the day, it was a different colour. You know…so you couldn’t just make your own star and come to school with it.

Because someone would know.

Worthy or Not

Every morning, I would exit my mom’s car quickly, eager always to see if maybe, just maybe today, my hand was worthy of receiving a star.

The star wasn’t drawn on by teachers. It was drawn on by a fellow student, a girl or girls in our class who decided whether or not on that day you were worthy to play in the “group” or not. Usually most were allowed. Some of us were not. Often, I was not…and I was left to wander with one or two other students (who also didn’t get awarded a morning star) during the breaks and lunch watching our fellow classmates play together.

I remember so many of the feelings I had on these days. I would go home and look in the mirror. I would study my eyes and make sure they lined up properly, check my hairstyle according to other students’ current hairdo, check my clothing over. I sometimes wondered whether my parents had installed special mirrors in our home to project a different image than what I really looked like…because those are the tricks that exclusion will lead you to feel. I often felt as if there was something wrong with me and nobody ever told me. It made me feel abnormal.

But each day, I would go to school and have to pretend it didn’t affect me.

There were occasional days when I would get a star. My heart would soar, and I would feel ecstatic. But then, it would be followed by a period of time when I didn’t get one.

That Feeling Never Goes Away

Thankfully, we all grew up and this silliness ended…or we learned to deal with it. But it still brings back painful memories. Some that my friends and I recall way too easily. And there are times when things happen in adult life that so easily bring me back to that morning feeling of, “Am I enough?”

If only my adult self could have intervened at that point in my life. Or actually, any adult.

If only someone could have reminded me at that age that self-worth comes from so much more than a star placed on your hand by a peer.

But, in my little world at that time, it didn’t. I had too much shame to share what was happening with my parents. But I wish someone at the time could have reassured me that life as it looked in grade 5 and 6 would not be what life would look like forever.

Even though then, it felt like it was eternity.

Joined By Jenga

We live in a broken world…and the ebb and flow of friendship changes lap onto the shores of our teaching desks daily. Relationships, acceptance, belonging, and community are essential to student learning and a thriving environment in which students feel they can learn. Mentoring students in community, acceptance, inclusion, encouragement, and diversity can be a full-time job every day.

Teaching students to find their worth and identity in Christ can run stark contrast to where they are finding or not finding their identity in the hallways and with friends in a Christian community. That is why we place so much emphasis on mentorship and having students share their voice in what a safe school looks like. Our hope is that when students articulate it, it will become a practice they are invested in.

Last week, our students joined together in their Fit Frat groups (gender specific small groups of 6-8 students from each grade) to discuss what it means to work towards creating a school community of belonging emotionally, physically, socially, spiritually, intellectually/academically, and culturally.

From here, students decorated giant Jenga blocks with words, images, and Scripture verses they felt best represented the topic their group was assigned. The goal was to create a large visual reminder/symbol of what it means to work towards creating a safe school together and to have each student recognize the part we each play in building a school community of belonging.

Because really, my prayer as a teacher is that each and every student who walks through the doors of our school feels they have an important and essential place of belonging in community here.