Put yourself in Ana's place. Ana is a girl who feels tired of feeling different from everyone else, so, she decided to embrace the feeling of being different and paint her hair her favorite color - dark blue - and pierced 4 more holes in her ear. Next day, time to go to school and she feels really good about her new look. She smiles at everyone and for the first time in a long time she feels really confident and good about herself. But, just like all sweet dreams come to an end, blue hair and piercing do as well. When heading to her first block, Ana receives an email from the principal, telling her to go to her office at one o'clock. The first thing that pops into Ana's head is that the principle would tell her how her new look is amazing and that she should be proud to have such confidence to stand out and show her true identity. To show everyone who she really is.
After the clock strikes one, Ana goes to talk to the principal. As she enters the room, the principal, with no kindness, explains how "the student should look a certain way. [To look] the way that most matched the style of our school", and that Ana did not fit that criteria. Therefore she was forced to "fit in" the way the school wanted her too. The school clearly interfered with her freedom of being herself and creating her own identity. At the end of the one way conversation, Ana had one week to take away a part of her freedom and become like every other kid.
As soon as Ana left the room she felt like the walls were closing in on her and that she didn't belong anywhere. While calling her mom, she sees that her phone is wet with teardrops. "I didn't noticed I was crying. I didn't even had to blink for the tears to fall! They took the only thing that made me feel me!" Finally Ana's mom arrived and took her to the salon to undo her true self.
Picking out your clothes in the morning and looking different from everybody else is a way of expressing who you are and to express who you are you need freedom. Escola Americana do Rio de Janeiro is a school that gives you freedom to express yourself. According to the First Amendment of the US Constitution, all students should have the right to have the freedom to express themselves. In the case the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (7-2, 1969) the US Supreme Court wrote that, "it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."
The freedom of using your own cloth and expressing your physical appearance, leads to being open and being able to express yourself mentally. Expressing yourself mentally is to not judge a book by its cover. To learn how different people work, look, talk and accept them. 14 out of 20 middle school kids who took the survey about feeling free in EARJ - 70.0% - think that EARJ is an environment who helps our mental thinking become a more positive one. One of the students who took the survey explained that, "They - the school - offers many different activities and invites students together with things such as group projects and guides for kids who are new to the school." The school also gives the opportunity to do after school activities, such as soccer, volleyball, basketball and other sports. That is another way for the kids to get to know different types of minds and learn how to work with them and accept them. "[I think that the school gives ways for the kids to know different types of minds] Because they give sport varieties and encourage different activities."
Small details such as uniforms and option within school can make a big difference in a school environment. Now-a-days, big details such as electronics can make an even bigger difference. Marcia Orenstein, EARJ's Middle School counselor said that, "About 4 years ago we (teachers, principal, and myself) realized that during brunch and recess it was awfully quiet. As we digged closely, we realized that most students were using their cell phone or computer, engaged to the electronic and not to there surroundings. Not interacting with who was on his/her side. There was no talk, no joking, no laughter, no joy that a kid in such a young age should have. The communication was all with the cell phone and the computer. This worried the school a lot because every young person needs to develop their social skills, that is, knowing how to interact, knowing how to solve their problems with friends, knowing how to recognize the body and facial language of the other, knowing if they communicate eye to eye. So, we made the decision to ban the use of cell phone in Middle School. And what happened? The conversations, the laughter, the joy, the healthy noise returned to be part of the school. The social media has several benefits but can not overlap eye-to-eye communication, touch, exchange. This is how we develop and grow as a group."
With the new phone policy, most kids feel like a piece of their freedom has been taken. Due to the facts that, it is a way of communication to your parents and that the electronic is your property. In a survey the 8th graders took about feeling that the students voices are being heard, one kids explained that, "Depends on what we say. For example we always talk about so much homework or using phones but nobody listens to our opinion. When I say that not having my phone with me, I mean that piece of my freedom is not with me. The phone is mine, not the school's."
But, here is this new point of view most kids don't have. What if the school not letting you use your phone is a new freedom. A freedom that at elsewhere you don't have. Taking away something so addictive can be a away to give a freedom. A freedom that you didn't even think could be. Our social lives don't allow us to have the freedom of not being all the time looking at a piece of metal. The liberty of trying to start a conversation, the liberty to touch, interacting and express. When Middle Schoolers were able to use there phone, that type of liberty was caged.
All students should be able to express themselves not only in the inside but on the outside too. All of them should have the opportunity that Ana did not have the privilege to have. All students should be able to learn different freedoms. And learn that smalls things such as hair can affect a kids way to express.
Here is an interview with EARJ's Middle School counselor, Marcia Orenstein.