After the holidays, we will be training teachers from 16 different elementary schools, some of them are general ed teachers, some are resource specialists who teach students with special needs…about half are private school teachers.
Most of them aren’t convinced that they need training on making their classrooms safe for kids who are targeted due to sexual orientation. They think that’s an issue for the high school teachers.
They are wrong.
Students who have been bullied and harassed for their perceived sexual orientation and gender expression tell us that it often begins in elementary school…long before they understand their own identity. They just know that they are different and that difference is somehow considered unacceptable.
Earlier this week, here in California, 12 year old Ronin Shimizu, committed suicide after enduring years of bullying and harassment. Friends and family describe him as a smart kid who loved art, fashion and being a cheerleader. His supportive parents moved him to three different elementary schools before deciding on home schooling.
I don’t know exactly what happened at those schools, I don’t know anything about how Ronin identified or whether he had friends who stood by him. I do know that the kind of harassment he endured is not just restricted to middle and high schools and that the elementary teachers are even less prepared to deal with it.
I really don’t have the words to express the mix of sorrow, rage and empathy I feel when I think of Ronin and his family. I want to do more…we all need to do more. In these moments I am particularly grateful to you for making it possible for us to train more teachers. Thank you for making it far more likely that an elementary school teacher will have the observational skills, the committment and the skill to intervene in homophobic bullying.
We have finished selecting our student-actors and it is our largest class to date! We also have a waiting list. We are excited to report that we have a new teaching assistant, a member of our original cast who just graduated from college and is back in town!
We always begin the year by getting to know each other and by building safety in our own class. Before we begin training teachers, we spend time learning about stereotypes, prejudice and bullying in schools. We talk about our own experience in different schools...experiences of being bullied, harassed or excluded as well as experiences of being a bystander or of being someone who tried to help.
We explore the concept of a safe and inclusive classroom and discuss the roles teachers and students play in maintaining safety. We also work on communication skills -especailly listening skills and we teach improvisational acting tecniques and character development.
We will start training educators in October. Until then we are building the foundation for another year of working to stop homophobic bullying in schools. Thanks for sticking with us.
The end of the school year means we celebrate having trained so many teachers ; we say goodbye to our current cast and then we start auditions for the 2014/2015 cast.
This is always a bittersweet time. Eight of our cast members graduated this month and are moving off into the world of college and work. It's always hard to watch them go.
Then we held auditions and have a record number of applicants. Next, we have to make some tough decisions!
Thanks again for supporting us through another successful school year making schools safer for LGBT students. We will continue to work on casting, scripts and calendaring over the summer. We will keep you updated on our plans for the fall.
Sometimes the best way to see the results of our work is to read some of the comments from teachers. These are from the latest sessions:
"I know there are kids in our school who are bullied for being (or being perceived to be) gay or lesbian. I just never knew what to do about it without making it worse for them. This training was so helpul. Watching the scenes and listening to the student actors talk about what made them feel more or less safe in class was eye-opening. I feel so much more confident that I can intervene and make school safer for all students" - High School Teacher
"At first I was doubtful that this session would be very relevant to my teaching situation. I teach young first grade students and could not imagine a situation where sexual orientation would be an issue. However, I now understand that I could be an important "safe zone" to older students at my school and being knowledgeable about an issue such as sexual orientation could prove helpful to my colleagues. I also understand that learning and practicing open-mindedness, respect, and inclusiveness of others starts at a young age. If a question or situation comes up in the future, I will be better prepared to address it" - Elementary School Teacher
"I would like to thank the Encompass team and the student actors for this workshop. Of all the trainings, seminars, and professional development I have attended over the last few years, this is one that is extremely relevant and meaningful. I am grateful that Lori gave us a list of resources to further explore this topic. It is one that is often neglected and passed over. " - Middle School Teacher
"This training was incredible. This has always been such a scary subject to me. I used to think that if I just ignored it, or called inappropriate comments inappropriate, that they would simply subside. In the training I learned how to have these conversations or direct students to resources where they can feel they are supported. I want to get to the root causes of name calling and inappropriate comments. This training greatly helped with that and I now know how to tackle this difficult area of academic life! THX!" - Middle School Teacher
"This training had helped me reflect on how my personal experiences affect my treatment of students in the classroom. I feel very comfortable with sexual orientation, but I am not comfortable talking about it in the classroom. I have realized that this can be considered a bias of sorts, because I never address or validate the students with two moms, or two uncles. Omitting this topic from my classroom, is the same as treating these students differently, whether I meant to or not. Young students look to their teachers to be mentors, and leaders. I have never realized that I cannot completely avoid the topic altogether. If I never thought about this before because I guess I assumed that silence is the same as respect. My silence on this issue has probably led my students to believe that I am not okay with someone who is gay, or that I wouldn't treat them the same if their family is considered different. Now that I am aware of this issue within my classroom, I plan on working to make a positive change in the classroom and incorporate acceptance rather than silence" - Elementary School Teacher
As always, we have a wonderful cast of students from the LA County High School for the Arts( LACHSA). The students audition /interview for a spot in our service-learning class and then use their talent and training to help us train educators. Normally, these students are all theatre majors. But not this year! In addition to theatre students, we have students from Dance, Opera, Music, Cinematic Arts and Visual Arts. It makes for a very interesting group!!
The class is currently studying sexual orientation and how LGBT students experience school in K-12. We will watch the film about Jamie Nabozny Bullied next week and then we will see the Lee Hirsch documentary, Bully the week after. Both of these films are great resources for anyone who wants to learn about homophobic bullying in schools.
We started our first teacher trainings in October (trained 144 teachers over three sessions) and will continue throughout the year. We will keep you posted on the impact
We also had a little fun dressing up for Halloween! I hope our photos make you smile.
As always, thanks for supporting us!
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