VIEW THIS VIDEO TO LEARN HOW WE CAN END DEGRADING SENIOR CITIZEN SCHOOL SPIRIT DAYS TAKING PLACE IN OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS. OUR SENIORS DESERVE BETTER. 
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RETIRED SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT SCOLDS SCHOOLS FOR ENCOURAGING AGEISM
 Dr. Marilou Ryder 

 

In 1999 I was a middle school principal in Torrance, CA.  Our Leadership Students scheduled a “Bum Day” for Friday Spirit Day, an activity in which students were encouraged to dress up in shabby clothing and push a shopping cart. I didn’t give this activity much thought as I was always so immersed in the job of managing 1,200 middle school students. One afternoon a group of students came to see me and complained they thought having a “Bum Day” was disrespectful to the homeless population. As a result of their keen insight, we cancelled “Bum Day” and mobilized students to collect food and clothing for the homeless. Good thinking kids!

Fast forward almost 20 years and I am aware that schools across the nation are hosting what they call Senior Citizen Spirit Days and/or 100 Day Celebrations. One night, scrolling through Facebook I was absolutely stunned. One of my Facebook ‘friends’ had posted photos of her students and faculty having fun on their Friday Spirit Day called Senior Citizens Day.  Photos were displayed showing students, teachers, and administrators dressed up as ‘Senior Citizens’ hunched over, using canes or pushing walkers.  Each participant had personalized their ‘costume’ by wearing outdated house dresses, baggy pants, sagging socks, wire rimmed eyeglasses, hair nets and white hair tied up in the proverbial bun.  A few adults, even secured wheel chairs and hung ‘Life Alerts around their neck.  The main event, “Come play Bingo at Lunch” was advertised to students.

I reviewed the school’s website plastered with Senior Citizen Day photos documenting the event; more canes, more walkers.  I did a reality check with two superintendent colleagues who were equally upset after viewing the photos. I then called the district’s school superintendent to share my discontent.  I explained the situation and she also seemed perturbed confessing she was unaware of this activity at one of her schools.  “I will see to this right now and get back to you,” she said. A few hours later the school’s website had eliminated all traces of their Senior Citizen Day.  I hoped for a return call, but I get it… superintendents are busy.

In response to what I sensed personally was an assault on senior citizens, I began to write posts on Facebook and LinkedIn alerting people to the problem.  As a result I have I have received many responses back from educators across the country on various forums. Many shared that they hadn’t thought much about these 100-Day or Senior Spirit Days in which students dress up as an old person in requisite costume with shabby clothing, slippers and pushing a walker. Familiar story!!

The good news is that educators across the country are saying they will be vigilant in ensuring these activities do not occur in their school districts. During recent work for our book, Don’t Forget Your Sweater, Girl: Sister to Sister Secrets for Aging with Purpose and Humor (Delmar Publishing) we interviewed hundreds of senior women, The women we interviewed do not think the side effects of aging are productive to their personal goals.  We also believe they do not want to be part of an optic in which school children celebrate aging by dressing up as a handicapped elder. By continuing these celebrations, I sense our educational system is baking in prejudices for the future by encouraging kids to come to school in a walker hoping to win "Best Costume".

Please continue to support and positively represent Senior Citizens in your schools. I for one would love to speak at your school and share with students how as a 70-year-old, I am still active and contributing to society. Luckily, for me right now, I won’t need a handicapped parking space and won’t be wearing slippers.