Upstander Heroes

Demetra Inspired by WICKED The Musical

Students from the Western Michigan University (WMU) College of Education and Human Development’s TRiOFuture Educator Success Program spent a semester creating and facilitating an anti-bullying/anti- oppression curriculum for 20 middle school students at Delton Kellogg Middle School in Delton, MI. Students enjoyed a safe space that encouraged reflection and allowed teacher education candidates the opportunity to connect with students – the experience was a win-win for all. Through the partnership between BullyBust and Wicked, these middle school students were awarded tickets to see Wicked at the Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Read below as Marcy Peake speaks about Demetra, one student in the program that used this partnerhip to rally together her classmates and overcome one of her biggest fears.

By Marcy L. Peake
Director, TRiO Future Educator Success Program, Western Michigan University

Demetra’s life obstacles are not evident when you see and meet her. You notice a vivacious, mature, interested and engaging young lady encouraging a welcoming and safe school environment for all.

I first met Demetra last year through the anti-bullying/anti-oppression collaboration between Delton Kellogg Middle School (DKMS) and Western Michigan University’s TRiO Future Educator Success Program (FESP). This collaboration was established to grow and develop an inclusive middle school culture for all students, staff and visitors in a rural school district. Delton is a small and primarily white farming community that has very few families of color. The TRiO Program additionally creates experiential learning opportunities to expose teacher preparation students to the joys and challenges of working with children. This multi-age and multi-racial group of administrators and students committed to anti-bullying formed a collaboration that has been mutually beneficial for all involved!

The philosophy of TRiO FESP is “everyone teaches and everyone learns” and this is also one of the guiding principles in our DKMS group. Demetra immediately stood out as a leader and young person with insights beyond her years. One early lesson involved the student group perception on the current school environment. The conversation got around to school uniforms (which they do not have) and the majority of the group groaned at the idea. Demetra shared her thoughts based on her experiences of attending a school that required uniforms. She said, “Uniforms are helpful to the kids and families who do not have extra money because kids can go to school and look like everyone else and not be teased.” When she made this simple and profound statement, her peers suddenly stopped groaning and began to see another point of view.

Demetra has attended many schools and moved several times. At times, her housing situation was unstable. Rather than using these experiences as excuses to close off from the world, she has managed to use them to strengthen her resolve. She very openly shares that getting to this stage has been a process that was not without its bumps and bruises. With that, she also always mentions the adults who were a stable presence. In particular, she credits DKMS Principal, Ms. Talo, for working with her to understand some of the obstacles and how her choices will impact the rest of her life.

Demetra has also always shared her love of music and singing, even sharing a very special necklace that was given to her by her grandfather who also has a love of music. When we saw the opportunity to possibly win tickets to see Wicked through BullyBust, Demetra was one of the primary reasons why this opportunity was so exciting.

She, like many of the other DKMS students, had never been to a college campus or to a Broadway production. We thought this would be such a great opportunity to allow these young people to see that the world is much bigger than what they currently experience. Through the messages in Wicked, they would forever have a visual optic reminding them of the work we had done all year. Needless to say, we felt like we won the lottery when our proposal was selected.

The students were excited and dressed up for the show, but nothing prepared us for the mesmerized looks from our students once the show began! I particularly observed Demetra because of her love of music and knowing some of her life experiences. She was captivated by the messages, music, costumes and cast unlike anyone I have ever seen. I only wished at that moment that the cast, crew, producers and writers of Wicked and the BullyBust staff could see what I was seeing – it would make every struggle of putting on this show worth it.

A few weeks after the show, I was invited to attend the Delton Kellogg Board of Education meeting that highlights accomplishments of the school year. Our collaboration with BullyBust and Miller Auditorium was presented and they were thanked for their generosity to our students. When I arrived, Demetra was there and had practiced “Because I Knew You” to sing at the meeting. She was nervous and sat with me in the audience. She shared that she was not sure if she could do it and had never performed in front of so many people she did not know. The room was packed with families, students, and board trustees. I told her that speaking at any board meeting, let alone singing at one, takes tremendous courage.

She performed and did an excellent job. This is not an easy song, but she was gifted with natural pure talent. When she finished, Demetra confirmed what I had already witnessed at the Wicked performance when she said, “I really did it!” She continued, “I decided after going to Wicked that I am going to go to college and be in theater.” Hearing her say it and confirming that she believed she could do it was a moment like no other. To observers, she has the ability to become whatever she wants to become, but she did not have this sense of certainty and entitlement to voice her destiny until she saw the Wicked performance and then performed at the board meeting. If one ever doubts the value of the arts or giving a young person a chance to experience life in a new way, meeting Demetra will change that doubt.

Thank you again for allowing us this opportunity and for allowing us to watch this transformation of this young person. I reminded Demetra after the show that someday, we will be watching her and because we knew her, we are changed for the better.

What is TRiO FESP? The TRiO Future Educator Success Program (FESP) is designed to help eligible students excel at Western Michigan University and in their K-12 teaching careers. Through a variety of activities, services, and opportunities on campus and in the community, our caring, knowledgeable staff will provide information and resources to enhance student academic performance and cultivate financial literacy, career development, leadership development, and awareness of campus services and programming.

Funded by a $220,000 annual grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the program is housed in the Office of Admissions and Advising. The Future Educator Success Program will partner with the College of Education and Human Development faculty and K-12 educational professionals to enrich students’ Western Michigan University experience and prepare them to fulfill their aspirations of becoming K-12 educators.