Growing up, I was always the “new kid” at school. About every two years I walked alone into a new classroom and was often tagged as just another “military brat.” That changed when I entered, for the first time, a school in the South. I experienced a new tag. One that haunted me for many years.

Jean Flahive was used to being the “new kid” every two years, but her experience in an elementary classroom in the South, like this one in Florence, Ala., was the first time she felt singled out. Courtesy National Archives photo 2641482

I took a seat somewhere in the middle of my fourth-grade classroom, and while waiting for our teacher to arrive, I shyly glanced around. Once again I envied all the kids laughing and chatting with each other. Childhood friends, no doubt. I sat in silence.

Finally, our teacher, a tall, imposing woman, entered the classroom, stood behind her desk and scanned the room until her eyes rested on me.

“Class,” Miss Doyle said, “we have us a little Yankee in our midst.”

The kids’ snickering echoed across the classroom. I felt their stares upon me.

Was Miss Doyle talking about me? Her imperious glare erased any doubt. Miss Doyle continued. “I want that little Yankee to stand up so everyone knows who she is.”

I didn’t stand. I lowered my head … mumbling that I was an American. I don’t remember anything else about that morning, but I remember how I felt. Hurt. And very much alone.

That evening, I didn’t tell my parents. I hoped it all would pass. But the next day a music teacher came into our classroom, placed an LP on the record player and told us to sing along with her to the Confederate song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again … hurrah, hurrah …”

Everyone else belted out the words. I tried. Then the music teacher said, in a mocking tone, “Since a little Yankee is in our class, I have to play ‘the other song.’ ” She lifted the needle onto the record. Everyone was silent, including the music teacher. Except me. I sang along to “Yankee Doodle Dandy” until I became too choked with tears.

I finally told my parents. The next morning, dressed in his highly decorated officer’s uniform and holding my hand, my father strode purposefully into our classroom. He walked me to my desk and then turned to face Miss Doyle. He asked her to please step out into the hall with him. His tone didn’t dictate a response. Miss Doyle looked thunderstruck; her shoulders slumped as she followed him out the door. I don’t know what was said, but neither Miss Doyle nor any other teacher in that school singled me out in such a manner again. Sadly, I was never befriended there.

For the remainder of my school years, my nomadic lifestyle was typical and, happily, many friendships blossomed. What happened to me was a long time ago, and I fervently want to believe that today, as “New Kids” arrive everywhere, they are welcomed without judgment and find friendships and acceptance.

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