Staff, family and students came back to school Tuesday, April 2, for the first Tigers Care Community Conference and its keynote speaker, Terey Summers.
Summers kicked off the event with a one-person performance of "The Wonderful World of Eunice," starring Summers as Eunice and co-starring Summers as Suzie, Bobby and the Hobson twins.
The titular star of the performance is a young, enthusiastic and awkward child who has trouble in social situations. But Eunice has huge aspirations. She plans to enter the school talent show where she plans to sing Carole King's "You've Got a Friend" with choreography, and she envisions the entire student body cheering for her.
Though she plays them as something other than cruel, the show's other characters are nothing short of bullies. There's a lot unique about Eunice that makes her the target of bullies, from her bangs that are pinned back on her head, the old sweater she wears around her waist and an old, banged-up lunch box.
In the performance, Summers plays out their interactions at lunch time. Sometimes they start off as seeming friendly, sometimes they are mean from the get-go. None of them ends well, and inevitably they crush Eunice's self-confidence, nearly making her give up on the talent show.
Eunice, however, realizes that she has reasons for what makes her unique. Her father has lost his job, so even though her bangs are long and out of control, she doesn't want to ask her mother to pay for a haircut. Her grandmother recently died after battling cancer and she wears her sweater every day proudly in her memory.
As for her beat-up lunch box, she doesn't want to ask her parents to buy a new one and she's also green and doesn't want to be wasteful. She knows that if the bullies knew what was inside as much as they knew what was outside, they might treat her differently.
"If we could look at people with the lens of our heart, would that change our perception?" she asks.
She also knows that her bullies have problems people don't see. Bobby is good at football; and though his dad attended all his older brother's games, Bobby's dad is never cheering him on from the stands. Suzie is popular, but she has body image problems. The Hobson twins' father abandoned their family.
Knowing what she knows, Eunice can see that these people have it hard like her, and if they could all just see one another for more than just their appearances, things could be different and better for everyone.
Summers finished by singing "You've Got a Friend" softly into the microphone, followed by "(What a) Wonderful World," by Sam Cooke before slipping out of the character of Eunice.
Recognizing that her audience has issues they are going through as well, she takes time at the end of each performance to ask the audience to bow their heads and close their eyes. She then goes from section to section of the stands and those who are going through something are invited to share a look, eye contact with her, because she said sometimes that recognition is all you need.
Summers was just the start of the Tigers Care event, one that Superintendent Dave Endicott plans to make an annual occurrence, though they are finding a way to draw in a larger audience.
"We've gotten nothing but positive feedback at this point," Endicott said. "We'd love to see more families engaged in it, so one of the things we are looking at is, how do we make this attractive so families want to be here and see the value in it? Maybe that's having student displays dealing with social and emotional learning."
From that point the event would continue much like this year, with an introduction, a keynote address and breakout sessions. This year's sessions covered a variety of topics, including Creating Resilient Kids; So You Want to be a Bully ... I Dare You; Social Media and Video Game Darkside; What's the Deal with Vaping; Resiliency in the Face of Crisis; and Understanding ACEs: Building Self-healing Communities.
Each session was held twice, allowing participants to attend two each. Endicott said the sessions were almost equally attended, though the sessions on social media and ACEs were slightly more popular than others.
The event was sponsored by the Opioid Prevention Team and Crow Wing Energized. Endicott thanked them as well as many representatives and volunteers who hosted sessions and helped to work toward family, school and community improvement.
"There were a couple pieces behind the idea. One is to continue to build community connections so that as we see what our families need and want to be successful parents and in what they are doing, how can we as a district support that?" Endicott said.