OPINION | City, suburban students stereotype each other, schools

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Clean halls. Quiet classrooms. Calm lunch hours. Silent libraries. I began thinking these were common characteristics of all Minnesota schools, not just suburban ones.

In the spring of 2008, I was in for a rude awakening when my mom told me that we were moving back to the city. A hurricane of emotions flooded my mind that very moment.

“What do you mean ‘back?’ ” I asked her.

“You were born there, remember?” my mom said.

“We moved to the suburbs when you were about 7,” she continued.

She went on for about 15 minutes describing where we lived and how we lived. All I could focus on is that one word: Back.

After I processed that I’d be leaving my friends behind, I realized she told me the story a million times before; but I never actually thought about it until that moment.

When I told my friends and teachers I was leaving, they immediately asked for where. They expected me to say somewhere near Plymouth, like Wayzata or Maple Grove. When I said St. Paul, the look on everyone’s face was priceless.

My teachers looked like they were sucking a lemon. My friends gave me a blank look that said, “Where in the heck is St. Paul?”

After telling my clueless friends St. Paul is where the Minnesota State Fair is located, they began shooting out stereotypes about city schools.

“Why do you want to go to school where everyone’s idea of fun is vandalism?” a preppy cheerleader asked me.

I heard all sorts of stereotypes: You’ll never graduate in a city school. You’ll never go far with a city school diploma. All they care about there are sports. They hate white people. The teachers are just a dumb as the students. The schools are so dirty. The schools are so poor that they don’t serve lunch. They can’t afford buses, so you’ll have to walk to school. You won’t have textbooks. You may get shot in school.

Being an eighth grader, I didn’t know much about St. Paul, so I began thinking some stereotypes were true.

While trying to sort fact from fiction, my teacher interrupted.

“So you must be going for a basketball scholarship then?” my teacher asked.

“No. My mom got a better job. That’s why we’re moving,” I simply responded.

“Oh,” my teacher said. “Let’s regroup everyone.”

“Well, good luck,” my friends sarcastically replied.

During spring break my mother, brother, puppy and I moved back to St. Paul.

When I arrived to my new neighborhood, the Como Park area of St. Paul, I was waiting for crime to happen in front of my face.

Instead nothing happened. Not a sound. Everyone was extremely friendly.

Later that week my mom took me to a placement center to register for school. I chose Humboldt Junior High School because it was further from where I lived. I wanted to see another part of town. Now I go to Johnson High School.

The people at my city schools were very nice, but like my friends in the suburbs, they had stereotypes: Suburban school kids are all racist. Not many black people live out there. Suburban kids are rich. The school system is rich too There’s nothing to do but shop and go to school. They have the best sports teams because they buy their players. They’re so rich their school lunch is free. Everyone’s stuck up. Everyone’s a genius. All the teachers have Ph.Ds.

I began telling them only about half of what they believed is true. Suburban kids may have money but aren’t filthy rich.

I told them some suburban kids are stuck up, but everyone has his or her own personality, just like city kids.

Busting stereotypes about suburban and city schools is important because stereotypes give false representations of what it means to go to a city or suburban school.

Despite major reasons why these schools differ – money and location – there are similarities.

Both types are strong in academics and sports. Students in both schools take learning seriously, while others don’t. Both communities have a large minority population, which may seem surprising.

The most interesting thing I’ve noticed is that both schools are welcoming of new cultures and people. Neither is as vicious as the other one presumes.

When I hear people say negative things about suburban or city kids, I try not to let it bother me. What they say is simply because of ignorance.

But stereotypes stay with people. Those same people pass the stereotypes to their children, so the cycle never ends.

Let’s stop the cycle. You can make a difference: Stop the spread of stereotypes. Become educated about suburban and city schools. Anything you do now impacts the future.

Change starts with our generation – Change starts with you.

Tiana Daniels, Johnson High School (Photo by Dymanh Chhoun)