Last Halloween, I was handing out candy when I recognized one of our students among the goblins and ghouls parading through my neighborhood. She was trick-or-treating with her cousin, and they had unwittingly landed on my doorstep. When I opened the door, I was surprised to hear, “Dr. Reaves?” as we both recognized each other. She was as shocked to see me as I was to see her. I was only a month into my role as President of WSG, and I was still getting to know our students and they were just getting used to me. And yet, there I was, in my home, not a school administrator but a regular mom and giver of treats. I felt, in a way, unmasked.
That moment of seeing each other in a different light came to mind when I joined our eighth-grade class on their annual class retreat last week. The overnight trip is time away from school when students come together in prayer, reflection, and team-building activities. The class retreat is a popular school tradition that our eighth-grade students look forward to every year. It is also a defining moment for class unity, as students strengthen their bonds and develop a new appreciation of each other.
On the day that I joined the retreat, students participated in one activity in particular that struck a chord with me. Each girl was given a paper mask and asked to write inside the mask how they see themselves - what they know is on the inside. As I observed the activity, I noticed that many girls chose negative statements about themselves and their self-image. On the outside of the masks, the girls were asked to write the aspects of themselves that they share with others. They then wore the masks on the backs of their heads as they went around the room to write positive affirmations on each other’s masks.
And this is when you could almost see the negativity wiped away as the girls took the time to lift each other up by sharing encouraging and heartfelt words. By the end of the activity, every girl had a mask full of positive statements about themselves and a big smile on her face. Several girls wanted to know if they could hang their masks in their lockers as a reminder of how their peers see them: beautiful, kind, courageous, and fierce. At that moment of affirmation, it was as if they, too, had been revealed for who they really are. They too, had been unmasked.
Imagine if every girl each day went to school knowing that she would be reinforced positively for who she is, that her peers would uplift her and the community would recognize and celebrate what makes her special. It is important as educators that we recognize the masks our students wear are just that - sometimes hiding negative self-talk and doubt in themselves and their abilities. Their performance at school and in classrooms may be based on what they see on the inside of the mask and what they believe about themselves. Finding a way to pull the mask away, to see her for who she is and help her see and recognize her own gifts and talents, has the potential to positively change her life forever.