I grew up in a small town. There weren’t many kids where I lived. I went to school but I was different in every way. I was white, for starters. I was used to the racism of my relatives so of course I didn’t know what to make of their different skin when I was first starting Pre-k. I wasn’t racist, though. I was just so unsure. Of course, as I progressed in grades, the bullying got worse. You’d never think an eight year old could be so hateful until you come back from lunch, look into your desk, and find the toy you’d brought for show and tell torn to shreds. The names started soon after the toy incident. I was used to being a pariah and I actually liked it so I was a bit taken aback when a girl that had once tried being my friend came up to me and called me a “freak.” I didn’t know what it meant so I dismissed it.
Distance was my protection. I never paid attention unless I really wanted to, especially at school. If I paid attention long enough, I noticed things that were horrible. Sometimes I’d look up at lunch and see kids giggling at me. If I looked up at the wrong time during class, I’d get an ugly face from a peer, a face that mocked me. My best friend was a teacher who didn’t even teach me. Her name was Mrs. Reed. She was white and she was always nice to me. I wish I had been put into her class. I remember being paddled once but my first grade teacher. I was always so distant though so I could never remember what for. Just that I was taken into the bathroom, had my little pants pulled down, and my butt hit with a ruler. I was confused but didn’t ask questions.
My parents didn’t know how badly I was being mocked at school. If they did or if I did mention anything to them, they dismissed it. How badly could you be bullied in first grade? To them, my torment was joke. I’d build up all this resentment of what was happening to me at school and build up all of my energy and when I got home, I’d be so hyper yet so angry with the world. That year, in first grade, I didn’t just receive new glasses and a new cliche nickname of “four eyes”, but I was put on a medication called Ritalin. The therapist that my parents had been taking me to for years had prescribed me many new medications. At one point, she thought I had bipolar disorder. But she eventually settled on the thought that I may have ADHD. I was put on Ritalin so that I could calm down. My parents didn’t know how much it depressed me. I never paid attention to my grades, but I know they dropped as soon as I was put on The Demon. There was no more hyper-ness for me. I was empty. All I wanted to do was sit down and breath. Second grade was less eventful. I was called names and still bullied. I was a pariah but I didn’t much care. I hated school and everyone in it. I just wanted to go home and pretend I had friends. I liked my imaginary friends more than anyone else in the world. Running around in my yard that seemed an endless adventure island, I’d have hundreds of friends.
Everything happened in fourth grade. Everything got worse. Everything was about to get better. There was this hateful boy who was as mean as a rattle snake. He was suspended almost weekly, as he had been since before I could remember. He didn’t care how horrible he made me feel or how he was going to do it. So when he began pounding mercilessly on my arm one day in line while I was waiting for class, I didn’t do anything. Everyone laughed. I went home that day and cried to my mom. Why didn’t the teachers do anything? Surely they saw him hitting me like he was! Didn’t they hear the kids laughing and making the “ohhhhhh” noise that only kids could make! Why me? Was it because I was the freak? Was it because I was fat? Why was I treated differently? I NEVER talked for Christ’s sake! I sat silently even when a teacher was addressing me, as I had been since the middle of 3rd grade!
The new principal was a mean lady that I called Ms. Witch. She was a young black lady. I had experience with racist teachers before, like in Pre-k with Mrs. Petell but Ms. Witch had more power and she seemed hell bent on making my life miserable. I went to the office for the first time since Kindergarten that year over something I didn’t even do. I can’t remember what. But she must’ve felt pretty damn dumb when the boy who did do it confessed. That wasn’t the first time I had went to the office that year and it wouldn’t be my last, but we’ll get to that after I tell you about KIPP.
In 2001, a school began to be build not far from the school I was currently attending. I had heard that it started with 5th grade. As soon as it began being built, students started coming. You see, it was a charter school in the KIPP foundation and they wanted to get started with the first class, class of 2009, right away. It grew into a all new elementary school and as the class of 2009 was ready to go to high school, a new high school was built just for them. I heard rumors at school that kids were made to sit on cinder blocks when they misbehaved and this thing called “bench.” I remember wishing my school had punishment beside silent lunch and suspension. I’d never do anything bad enough to be suspended (so I thought) and I stopped doing my homework just so I could sit in the quiet protection of the teacher. Sometime my mom would drive by KIPP and I would look at it longingly. Mom noticed.