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A Back to School Message of Hope

School

This post was submitted by Kim Westheimer, Director of Welcoming Schools

“I don’t have any courage left.  I can’t go to school for these last two weeks of the year.”
– A middle school transgender student in a conversation with her mother in June of 2012

Students shouldn’t have to feel like it takes courage to go to school, but far too many students feel that way. As they embark on a new school year, many worry that they might not have enough courage to enter the school doors.
 
But I don’t want to write a depressing, back-to-school message. I want to share a message of hope. Hope that comes from meeting parents and educators across the country who are supporting children so that they can truly be who they are.
 
This week I led a workshop in an elementary school in a large urban school district. Two moms joined me to be on a panel and spoke about their children.   
 
One mom has an 8-year-old son. When he was 2 years old he opened his onesies and ran around delightedly, saying, “Look at my dress!” Before long he turned every day objects into accessories – the piece of twine became a stylish belt for his outfit; the pillowcase became cascading hair.  
 
The mom and her husband hadn’t been prepared for this, but no preparation was necessary for this mom to decide she was going to be the best mom possible to this child. So she advocates in her school. Talks on panels. Tells her child he is loved for who he is.
 
The love that she has for her child and some of the challenges she faced moved some educators to tears. They left the workshop with a simple message, expressed eloquently by the other mom who addressed the teachers that day:  “We just want our children to know their joy.”
 
Strangely, both mothers had a similar problem with schools their children attended when they were young. A few parents at each of these schools did not want a child at the school who didn’t conform to gender norms. They asked that these children be removed from the school. Why? Because the parents did not know how to answer questions their children were asking about these kids.

The educators and administrators in these schools would hear nothing of this. They met with the parents and told them, “We want you to stay, but if you’re not comfortable you have to find a new school. These children and families are part of our community. “
 
That’s what a Welcoming School looks like. Let’s all work together this school year to make sure no more children feel like they need to muster up all their courage simply to go to school.

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