This year, HRC is celebrating National Poetry Month by asking young people nationwide to write poems about what equality means to them and share them with us.

This week, we spoke with Michele Hatchell, a member of our HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools team, about her work with HRC, how working with young people inspires her, the importance of arts education and her favorite poets.

Hatchell is a Welcoming Schools expert trainer and consultant who has worked in education for more than 25 years. She works with educators in Madison, Wisconsin, and around the country to help make elementary schools more welcoming and inclusive to all young people -- especially transgender and non-binary youth. Hatchell is also an artist and has designed some of the lesson plans that inspired HRC’s celebration of National Poetry Month.

How did you get involved with HRC's Welcoming Schools?

The school where I was teaching at the time was also the school where my daughter went, and we didn’t have any books on LGBTQ families. So I wrote a grant and I got a set of books for my school, and then I replicated this at all 32 of Madison’s elementary schools. I thought we were all set, but then I discovered the books weren’t getting checked out. And I realized that teachers didn’t know how to talk about LGBTQ issues so they weren’t using the books. The LGBTQ coordinator in Madison worked with me to do professional development in this area, and that’s how we found Welcoming Schools and Gender Spectrum. If you go forward 10 years, we now have one of the largest Welcoming Schools programs in the country.

Why do you think arts education is so important for young people?

I’ve been a big advocate of the arts since the early 90s. There’s good data that schools that have thriving arts (including music) programs have more positive learning environments.They have better attendance. They’re more joyful schools.  The most revolutionary science and engineering solutions are invented by people who have done good creative thinking and problem solving, and that’s one of the many skills the arts can give you.

How can we use art and poetry to teach lessons about social justice and inclusion?

In a lot of ways but particularly around social justice, people underestimate how aware young children are. We wrote our social justice lesson plan intentionally so that kids could work together to talk about issues they care about and then team up. By collaborating, they learn about each other and also how to become change makers, how to organize and explore issues with each other.

Who is an artist and/or poet who inspires you?

Andrea Gibson — a non-binary poet. I’m just in awe of them.

Do you have a favorite poem?

“Love is the whole thing / and we are only the pieces” - Rumi

What is one thing you love about working with young people?

Young people give me hope. They are brilliant, they are passionate and they are aware of their power to make change. A lot of times when I go train at schools I’m really training the adults because kids get it. If you talk to them about how a friend’s family is different from theirs — they’re like yeah, of course!  

For more information on how HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools program harnesses the power of poetry in our lesson plans, visit the Welcoming Schools website.

HRC Foundation's Welcoming Schools is the nation's premier professional development program providing training and resources to elementary school educators to:

  • Welcome diverse families;
  • Create LGBTQ and gender-inclusive schools;
  • Prevent bias-based bullying;
  • Support transgender and non-binary students.

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