How a School United to Tell a Student’s Secret

PEYTON, Colo. (Nov. 15, 2013) — Eleven-year old Katarina Lucardie had a secret she couldn’t hide any longer. She wanted to tell it. She wrote a note.

“I have this cell thing that makes me lose my hair,” wrote the sixth grader last month to her counselor at Skyview Middle School in Falcon School District 49, located in northeast Colorado Springs. “I’m bald, but a I wear a wig.”

Lucardie was born with Alopecia Areata, an autoimmune skin disease that causes hair loss. When she started fourth grade at Springs Ranch Elementary School, the symptoms progressed. By Christmas, she was bald. Her mother ordered a wig.

Carmela Aranda feared her daughter might get singled out, like she had. After suffering a severe ear infection and fever as a toddler, Aranda lost her hearing. While many of her classmates understood her deafness, “they didn’t want anything to do with me,” she said.

“As a parent, of course, I don’t want anything but the best for my child,” said Aranda, describing the anxiety she felt when her daughter shared her decision. “I was kind of bullied in school. I don’t want the same to happen to her.”

During the past two years, Lucardie told only a couple of close friends. Recently inspired by an upbeat 13-year-old Talia Joy Castellano from Orlando, Fla., a balding cancer patient who took to YouTube to share makeup tips, she wanted to tell more kids, a lot more.

Lucardie wanted to tell the more than 1,000 students at Skyview Middle School. She had grown tired of wearing her wig. It routinely irritated her head, especially after rigorous activities during gym class.

“I’m nervous, but I’m proud of her,” said Aranda, standing Nov. 14 in the school’s library. As nearly 130 students arrived, sixth grade’s “C Team,” they sat on the floor and pivoted toward the projector screen. They weren’t sure what to expect.

“We have a very important lesson today,” said assistant principal Lisa Fillo. “All I can say at this moment … it’s about courage.”

When school counselor Jennicca Mabe told Fillo about the note, the sixth grade principal called a meeting. Lucardie said, “I want you to help me, so I don’t have to wear a wig anymore.”

They brainstormed how best to help. Broadcasting teacher Brian Lewis offered to produce a documentary about her decision and disease. During the video, the school nurse could ensure students understood she’s neither contagious nor terminal.

Lewis produced the film privately, rather than with a class, to keep her secret a little longer.

“I’m nervous, but I’m proud of her—she just wants to be herself.”

“I’m nervous, but I’m proud of her—she just wants to be herself,” said Aranda, ahead of her daughter’s debut. “She doesn’t care what other kids think. She’s brave to do this.”

Lucardie was seated with her classmates in the library, as the 11-minute documentary started. With its resolve evident, sniffles echoed and tears dropped. When the screen went blank, the secret teller stood, walked to the front of the group and requested questions.

Her peers admitted they hadn’t noticed. They asked about how it feels to wear a wig, and then how it feels to share her story.

“I feel excited, because I’m finally getting it out,” said Lucardie. “I didn’t know kids were going to cry. … I knew adults might cry, but I didn’t know kids were going to cry.”

“I think, personally, you look even better without your wig,” said a sixth grade boy.

“Relieved,” said Aranda, describing her daughter’s presentation. “The kids really accepted it, based on their questions. They were hugging her. Some were crying. They had expressions of acceptance, and it was really sweet.”

After presenting to the other two sixth grade teams the next day, along with seventh and eighth graders, Lucardie said she’ll start attending school next week without her wig.

“I want people to like me for me, and not what I look like,” she says, “because that’s how I can find my true friends.”

Lucardie says it’s important to make the best of differences. When asked about her message to other children with Alopecia Areata, she says, “you’re special, you have something most people don’t have. Take advantage of it.”

“Stay true to who you are.”

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