The site contact approached me in the lunch room while the girls were lining up for their 3rd meal before programming started. She whispered to me while the girls were a couple feet away, “There’s something called ‘riot day’ goin’ around on social media. We have been keeping a close eye on the kids all day, but I just wanted to make sure you knew. If anything happens, there will be police officers in the hallways”. I tried to not let this information worry me. I smiled and greeted the girls one by one as they came from the line to the table to eat. “Hi Chloe, What’s up?” She said nothing as she walked by me. She didn’t even look at me. I hoped she wasn’t planning anything for later in the afternoon. I didn’t have time to think about it. I ran upstairs to get the classroom ready. I pushed all the desks to different sides strategically to maximize the center space, and then I swept. When Coach Ashley led the girls up to the room, the initial mood was surprisingly high. They even commented on how much space there was and that it was clean. It was a great start.
Keeping that energy up was key. We led right into a transition challenge. The girls held hands in a circle and tried to pass a hula hoop from person to person without using their hands. I told them we were going to time ourselves to see how fast we could go. When it came around to Chloe, she used her arm to flip the hoop up above her head and straight down. It cut the time in half. I made sure exclaim what a brilliant strategy this was and told the other girls to watch Chloe when she went. She smiled a little bit and continued to demonstrate her technique. I knew this could be the beginning of something. When we finished the activity, we gave each other high fives. I again praised Chloe and told her what an awesome job she did at the challenge. Kayla, the model of good behavior at programming, said to me in a low voice, “Chloe should get Athlete of the Day today”. Hearing her name, Chloe got angry and defensive immediately. “What she say about me!”, Chloe shouted. I motioned her to come over and relayed Kayla’s sentiment. A bigger smile came across her face, she looked me in the eye and I added, “You know what? I think I agree with Kayla. Keep it up today”.
For the next activity I asked them to partner up; the moment that followed gave me goose bumps. Kayla grabbed Chloe’s hand, “Come on. We partners.” Chloe did not fight. She did not get angry. She didn’t even act too cool and make fun of Kayla. She just looked excited. The other girls were ready to play as well. The energy in the room was palpable. The rest of the day was amazing. There was minimal attitude or resistance. For the first time in ten weeks we had a day where everyone participated in every activity. The willingness to let their guard down and just be silly and happy was infectious. The classroom was loud with sounds of having fun. I hoped the police officers in the hallway could hear us.
Chloe got Athlete of the Day. I walked her outside to her mom waiting in the car. I don’t think there is any better feeling than to tell a mother how amazing her child is. Kayla was still waiting to be picked up. I sat next to her and I thanked her. I asked if she had fun that day. She said yes and then I asked if she understood what had happened that day. I explained that she has the power to make people feel good about themselves. Her choice to say nice things about someone else is what made the day go so well. I asked her to always remember that power and that choice. I thought about riots on my way home and how they are anger-filled and contagious. A few people can start the uprising and then it quickly spreads and gets out of control, it is hard to break up because people are acting in mob mentality, so influenced by the people around them. I realized that today, Kayla started a riot of a different sort. In the radical act of grabbing Chloe’s hand, she put herself out there and chose to be nice to the person who was the most intimidating, the most likely to shut her down. Her uprising against the negativity of some of her peers caught on wildly. It was unstoppable and they were acting as a unit.
When I got home my roommates asked how my Tuesday was, bracing themselves for a horror story. I smiled and almost said, “Well, one of my girls started a riot.”