Student campaigns against labeling others
Pocono Record, PA -
Some problems with the Micro school movement in Oregan.
STROUDSBURG — Most know the saying about sticks and stones doing more physical damage than words.
For Stroudsburg Middle School seventh-grader MacKenzie Kern and others her age, words, particularly labels, can harm the emotionally vulnerable.
Someone wearing black clothes and dressing in dark makeup is a "goth." Someone wearing brand name clothes such as American Eagle or Aeropostale is a "prep." Someone wearing bright, flamboyant colors is a "scene."
And then there are the "skaters," who ride skateboards, the "jocks," or athletes, the "nerds" and the "emos," or emotionally troubled, says Kern, 13.
"You're stereotyping people just because they dress, act or look a certain way or listen to certain kinds of music," says Kern, who has been called a "hippie" for wearing clothes such as a T-shirt with a peace symbol on the front. "People have labeled me and I've labeled others, which is something I'm not proud of."
That's why Kern has taken a stand against "labelism" and is trying to convince others her age to do the same.
Every day since March 27, she has worn a white belt around her waist in school and out in public. From one end of that belt to the other are signatures, almost all of which have been put there by children ages 12 to 16 who support her stance.
"I feel it's important to focus mainly on kids in my age group," she says. "If this generation of kids can set an example by stopping labelism, then maybe future generations can do the same. So far, I have only one signature from an adult, a teacher who told me she believes in what I'm doing and said she's glad I'm doing it."
At one point, Kern had 105 signatures on her belt. But for each person who agrees with ending labelism, there's one or more who say Kern is wasting her time.
"I've had both students and teachers tell me I'll never really change anything because most people will go on labeling," she says. "I've even had students who signed my belt tell me they want their signatures removed because they changed their minds. So, I scrubbed off five signatures, which took me back down to 100."
But that won't stop Kern from trying to raise awareness among others her age.
"There are kids who know labelism is wrong, but don't speak out because they're too afraid of not fitting in," she says. "You don't know what kind of pain some kids might be going through in life and then to be labeled on top of that. No one should be made to feel like they're not as good as anyone else just because other people think they fall into a category."
Susanne Kern feels proud when seeing her daughter stand up for something she strongly believes in.
"I doubt I would have had the courage to do what she's doing when I was her age," Susanne Kern says. "I tell her to keep it up if she feels this passionately about it and don't let anyone discourage her."
Stroudsburg Middle School principal Karen Thomson agrees.
"MacKenzie is ahead of her time," Thomson says. "She realizes a social issue that has plagued teenagers for generations. Kids at this age are trying to figure out their identities.
"Many people think it's human nature to divide ourselves into categories, but labeling is dysfunctional behavior," Thomson says. "MacKenzie is sending out a good message. And she's doing it without causing any disruption in school."
Small schools aren't pleasing everyone
Mail Tribune, OR
Other schools such as Eagle Point and Lebanon have pulled out of the grant program for similar reasons.
"I think we are really focusing on the dropout kids," Mullaney said. "I think we need to do that but not at the expense of everyone else."
Some Crater students complained that small schools have resulted in an adversarial relationship between students and gang-like behavior based on school identity, with some fights breaking out based on their school allegiance. Students have assigned certain stereotypes to each school, further fragmenting the student body.
Health school freshman Kyle Haviland summed it up this way: The "preps" go to School 1 (health). The "geeks" and "jocks" attend School 2 (business). The "hicks" go to School 3 (natural resources), and the "emos" (punk rockers) are in School 4 (arts).
"Some kids will say, 'Get out of here; you're an emo,'" said arts school freshman Katie Jones.The hostility between students in some of the schools prompted a group of seniors to launch a "Hate Kills" campaign, plastering the campus with messages to encourage acceptance of others.
Despite the division, both Kyle and Katie said the theme-based courses do make classes more interesting and easier to understand.