Since 2004, the HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools program has been providing youth-serving professionals in schools and districts around the country with the resources, training and tools needed to establish learning environments that are both inclusive and affirming of young LGBTQ+ identities. With the program’s ultimate goal being to nurture academic achievement by providing physical and emotional safety for all LGBTQ+ students and their families, it wasn’t long before the need to expand the program into secondary schooling became increasingly apparent.
This year, the Welcoming Schools program introduced and implemented efforts designed to help educators and school communities better support LGBTQ+ students in middle and high school.
“Our requests for training at the secondary level were significant. 39% of our requests in 2019 and 2020 were from secondary schools,” said Cheryl Greene, director of Welcoming Schools. “The school districts that we engaged with at the elementary level really wanted to expand to middle and high school so there was continuity and the ability for systemic change. Our comprehensive approach to professional development works. Secondary students need educators with the skills for creating safe and affirming spaces.”
To prepare the Welcoming Schools program for its expansion into secondary schools, it built on the already existing program aimed at K-5 students and educators.
“We went through several iterations of our professional development by reviewing training evaluations, getting feedback from facilitators and educators and reviewing data,” said Greene. “We developed a model that creates competence and confidence so that educators not only have the skillset, but have the confidence to ensure students are in classrooms where they feel supported and can be their authentic selves.”
Welcoming Schools helps the growth and development of young, queer teenagers like Lucy/Luke Chacko.
“It’s crucial because it allows the conversation to be had and allows students similar to me to learn about what identities are,” Chacko said. “We can start the conversation in the comfort of the classroom. Programs like Welcoming Schools have helped me feel safe and visible in the classroom by giving me a voice and not hiding my identities.”
So far, the secondary school program has developed five training modules specific to middle and high school educators focusing on intersectionality, creating LGBTQ+ and gender-inclusive schools, preventing bias-based bullying and supporting trans and non-binary students. Additionally, two secondary booklists and a secondary video embedded into the bias-based bullying module have been created. “We are also working on lesson prompts and writing prompts for our book lists aimed at secondary schools and students,” said Greene.
As the Welcoming Schools’ efforts to expand into secondary schools increases, a holistic approach to the entire public school system ensues for the LGBTQ+ community.
That’s something that Hannah Edwards agrees with. Edwards is a teacher in a school located in Minneapolis. She said that the Welcoming Schools program has helped her school actively celebrate diversity.
“As teachers, we have been asked to participate in many different equity presentations and workshops over the past three years,” Edwards said. “Welcoming Schools is the only program that has felt actionable, like it was going to have an impact on our daily practice in the classroom. I’m a specialist teacher who sees every student in the building. Welcoming Schools has been an invaluable resource as I seek to affirm and celebrate my students’ identities and the identities of their families."
Edwards has shared the program’s resources, checklist and guides with her fellow educators. “It’s been amazing to begin hearing consistent responses and common language when my school's staff discusses LGBTQ+ topics with students."
Our Welcoming Schools expansion into secondary schools will continue to develop throughout the course of the year.