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Looking to Create Inclusive Classrooms for LGBTQ+ students? Let These Middle Schoolers Lead the Way

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    Monarch Academy Students

Guest post by the Monarch Academy Student Alliance.

“In history, we see examples of simple, but brave actions that have changed so much,” Monarch Academy Student Alliance member.

When members of Monarch Academy’s Student Alliance envision a better world, they see a place where all people feel welcomed and accepted regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. They see a place where people are celebrated for their differences, not condemned for them. A year ago, students at Monarch Academy, an EL Education Network school in Glen Burnie, Maryland, only had a vision. Today, they have a plan to bring that vision to reality.

Below, hear from the students how they planted a seed that grew into a movement to build a safer, stronger, and more just community for LGBTQ+ students in their community and beyond. 

Students Take Charge
The Monarch Academy Student Alliance was born when one of us emailed the school principal and highlighted the lack of support for the LGBTQ+ community in our school. Instead of guessing where to focus our efforts, we created and administered a climate survey for all fifth - eighth graders asking questions about bullying in school, treatment of students based on perceived differences, hate speech, and treatment by school staff.

After analyzing the survey data, we learned—among other things—that students didn’t feel they had a trusted adult they could turn to within the school. From that moment, we made it our mission to shift the culture of our school community.

In just our first year of existence, we planned and executed a student-led professional development session for teachers, instituted a No Name Calling Week school wide, and designated a Day of Silence to bring awareness to student suicide. We even created lesson plans for each grade to address name calling which included books about LGBTQ+ experiences. We were grateful to have a supportive school leadership and advisers, and the organization GLSEN to help guide our work.

On the Day of Silence, we had 73 silent participants and most of our teachers wore ‘upstander’ stickers to show their support.

Even if people are not ready or do not want to talk about LGBTQ+ issues, they can look at our posters, see our work, and know that we are here. They know that our group will help.

Monarch Academy Student Alliance Member

Presenting Their Work 

On May 9th, 2019, as part of our Better World Day project, we stood before representatives from the teachers’ union, teachers and guidance counselors from across the county, and representatives from the county’s office of equity to share how we made Monarch Academy a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ students and their allies.

Our presentation was important because educators in our county did not have the knowledge and experiences that we shared. Others, who are doing this kind of work, got to see that they are not alone, and that we can be a support each other. They can use our lesson plans and our survey as a guide for their students.

It wasn’t easy to become the teachers, especially when our “students” were principals and guidance counselors from other schools. But when it was time to talk with the adults throughout the community, we had to think about what we do at the start of the year when we are making new friends and reacquainting ourselves with classmates. We put aside our self-consciousness and focused on what needed to be done. 

We were able to do a quality presentation because we have presented every single year at this school since kindergarten. Feedback from all of these previous presentations helped us to present on Better World Day.

By showcasing what we were able to accomplish in one year, we proved the impact students can have when they are given the opportunity to lead the way. 

“I’m going to bring back everything [I learned today] to my schools to inspire them to think bigger.” 

School Counselor

Moving Forward  
In the coming years, the Student Alliance plans to build on the new support systems they created. But most of all, they want to revisit the survey and see different results. 
 
With the spark of a single email, students set a powerful change in motion at their school, but they didn’t stop there. They inspired a change in the schools and communities across the county. They passed lessons along that have the power to save lives. They made brave choices to hold the adults around them accountable and proved beyond a doubt that no one is too young to contribute to a better world. Their advice to other students like them? “You can make positive change. Everybody can make a difference!”

Want to bring the lessons from the Monarch Students’ Alliance to your campus? Join us at EL Education’s 2019 National Conference: One Vision,Three Dimensions for presentations of their work and a master class with GLSEN.