Post submitted by David McCabe, HRC Digital Media intern
As August goes by, children around the country are preparing for the first day of school by practicing bus routes, frantically finishing summer reading and stocking up on notebooks and highlighters. Teachers, meanwhile, are addressing similar concerns — putting the final touches on lesson plans and memorizing student rosters — but are also preparing to meet a broader challenge: making their classroom a safe and exciting space for all of their students to learn, regardless of who they are. It’s a concern shared by parents, who may worry that their child will be harassed or bullied because they are different from their peers.
LGBT youth are more than two times as likely as their peers to have been verbally harassed at school, according to HRC’s groundbreaking survey Growing Up LGBT in America. They are also significantly more likely than their peers to have been physically assaulted at their school.
While the youth surveyed by HRC were in middle and high school, we know that bullying and negative attitudes and behaviors about people who are perceived as different start long before children become teenagers. Unfortunately, educators and administrators too often don’t have the tools to address bullying and bias directed at students perceived to be “different.”
Through its Welcoming Schools program, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation works to give those tools to people in school districts all across the country. During the year, consultants and trainers from Welcoming Schools visit with educators to help them build classrooms, hallways, and offices that are safe spaces for difference.
These trainings make sure that when educators and school officials are presented with a conversation about diversity in their district or institution, they are prepared to respond in a way that embraces people’s differences instead of alienating them for it. With the right preparation, these moments can serve not only to diffuse conflict, but also actively improve student’s ability to learn.
When the program was piloted and evaluated, participating schools and districts found major improvements in a number of areas — including an increase in educator’s comfort and intention to teach about diverse communities and an improvement in their school’s climate between the first day of school and the final one.
Every student, from kindergarteners through high school seniors, deserves to walk into a classroom where they are accepted and welcomed as they are. Without an environment where they feel comfortable and safe from day one, it is simply impossible for students to reach their full potential.
Interested in bringing Welcoming Schools to your community? Check out our 5 Keys to Success!