MANDAN, ND (KXNET) — “What does your mommy tell you about your hair? What does it mean,” Alysia Huck asked.

“Strong,” exclaimed Gaige Luger

Huck confirmed, “You’re strong?”

(Gaige nods head yes)

Today, Gaige is a spunky kindergartener who is proud of his long hair, but as his mom Chelsea Luger explains, that has not always been the case.

“He’s like, my friends are telling me that I look like a girl,” Gaige’s mom, Chelsea Luger shared. “‘ I don’t want my hair anymore. Can we cut my hair? I want to get a haircut.'”

This was not the first time Gaige requested to cut his hair. Chelsea says he had been teased about his long hair outside of school as well. But there is cultural significance behind those long locks of hair.

“In our culture, long hair, it means it’s your strength,” Chelsea explained. “It’s what gives you strength throughout the day. It’s like your medicine.”

Chelsea shared this with Gaige, and then reached out to his teacher, Mrs. Albrecht of Custer Elementary in Mandan, about what was happening at school.

“She was like, ‘You know, thank you so much for letting me know!’ And I believe it was the next day, he said, ‘My teacher showed me a book today called Bear’s Braid!’ And yeah, she said, ‘we’re going to teach all your friends about why you have long hair,'” said Chelsea.

Bear’s Braid is a book about two boys who are bullied for their braids, but are taught to be proud, and help others understand.

Mrs. Albrecht says her classroom has become more diverse every year, so she reads books like Bear’s Braid to help each student feel represented.

“You know, they’re quick to point out, ‘Hey, I have the same shoes as you or whatever.’ So we like to really kind of celebrate those similarities,” said Mrs. Jessica Albrecht, “but then also really celebrate the differences too, because that’s what makes our classroom so great.”

Mrs. Albrecht says she saw a definite shift in how the kids viewed Gaige’s hair, appreciating its significance.
And she saw an immediate change in Gaige as well.

“I could definitely tell after reading and sharing that story, he was like, ‘Yeah, I am brave I am I can do this!’ So he had a definite confidence boost,” Mrs. Albrecht said.

And it meant the world to Gaige’s mom as well.

“I was super emotional, because it was just the small thing, you know, that was really actually a really big thing like just to take the initiative to read this book to his whole classroom,” Chelsea shared.

And Gaige is proud of his long braid, representing his culture alongside his family.

“My cousins have long hair, like Kiki, but Kiki had (pause) this long,” Gaige shared.

Mrs. Albrecht says that with the increase in diversity, she works to make sure all of her students feel represented and that they can see themselves in the books they read and what they share.