The second semester of the school year has started out with new, positive changes. Students and staff walking around the building were able to notice the new safe space stickers, which show an image of AT’s mascot Bucky with a rainbow in the background.
The stickers were accompanied with a message to all students on Remind, which explained that the stickers were the first step in an ongoing process to remind everyone that AT is a safe space for LGBTQ+ students. Department head Rob Schader, who sent the message and took part in the process of coming up with the idea for them, shared, “We’re constantly trying to come up with ways to make kids feel safe and feel like they belong here.
“We want to make sure that we’re addressing kids properly not only in school, the way that they feel comfortable being addressed, but also if we need to call home we want to make sure that we’re addressing them the way they need to be addressed at home as well.”
The stickers were not the only step taken by the school to make it feel more inclusive. The school has sent out a Google form to all students, who would like to fill it out. The goal of the form was to allow students to fill it out with their preferred name and pronouns, as well as inform the school whether they felt comfortable with staff using it when contacting home.
“Mrs. Sychta designed the stickers and Mr. Schader and I worked together to implement them. It’s part of an ongoing process that the school and the district is taking, creating the stickers, working with that Google form, and it will also include professional development on how to better support students with LGBTQ+ identities. The school’s and the district’s focus is belonging and AT’s focus is “all together,” and so this is one of the ways we are trying to show greater support for students with these identities throughout the school,” shared English teacher and sponsor of the AS/IS club Claire Shoup.
The form was a part of an ongoing initiative to make LGBTQ+ students feel safe here at AT and a successful attempt to ease their journey of self discovery.
“If you have a student that is on the spectrum of gender identity, a major concern tends to be whether their name on Powerschool matches their identity. One of our goals is to find a way to have that information, with the student’s consent, in Powerschool, so that student’s teachers will know automatically whether it’s when and where it’s safe to use that name and those pronouns.
“Hopefully that will take some of that traumatic legwork off of the student, so that they don’t have to come out to every single individual teacher multiple times. It also helps us identify students that may need additional support because oftentimes students on that journey may need that support,” continued Shoup.
The reality of LGBTQ+ students is different for each individual, depending on a lot of factors, but a crucial one being their situation at home. Some students have no choice but to hide their identities from their family for their own safety.
The uncertainty about acceptance from their peers can make looking for support in other students a challenge. Having no support in their family, students have to rely on other resources in order to find it somewhere else. High school students already have a lot on their plates trying to balance their work at school with simply trying to find themselves and who they really are.
“The more we’re aware of students’ differences and students’ needs, I think the better we become as a community, not just schools or teachers, but community as a whole,” said psychology teacher Chris Bazant.
The underrepresentation of LGBTQ+ people in the media and attempts to conceal their existence can make students feel alone, potentially leading to additional struggles. The environment created at the school is crucial to their success, especially LGBTQ+ students who deal with additional challenges and have to navigate figuring out not only who they are, but where they can feel safe.
“Being a teenager by itself is difficult. Identifying who you are, what’s your role, your identity, and things like that and then when you’re trying to figure that out, your environment really helps you either blossom into that or sometimes it makes it more difficult, and that affects mental health, the way we interact with others around us, the way we build relationships, so I think it’s a very important thing and the more we’re at least aware of it, the better it is,” explained Bazant.
The stickers, as well as the form were positively received by LGBTQ+ students. Students who are a part of the AS/IS club shared their opinions on the stickers and the overall steps taken by the school to make it a more inclusive environment.
“I’ve seen a lot of progress with the school about the LGBTQ+ community and it makes me and a lot of other students really happy. The teachers and the administration are doing really great expressing that this is a safe space,” said junior Cerberus.
“It was nice to see the stickers and it made me think ‘Oh, they’re starting to really try to let kids know that they’re there to support them,” added freshman Sam.
The initiative was a positive surprise to many, but was happily welcomed. It also raised the question of what else the school is doing to make it inclusive and safe to not only LGBTQ+ students, but everyone, students or staff. A significant factor of that process is the equity training staff members have to go through.
Teachers and faculty are required to attend equity training, with some going an extra mile and attending additional, not mandatory sessions.
“It is a part of the professional development that teachers need to maintain licensure,” said director of student services Dr. Raquel Wilson.
“The purpose of equity training is to eliminate bias, as it relates to student achievement and learning experiences, and to promote learning and working environments that thrive,” continued Wilson.
The main focus of the training is creating a safe environment for everyone at AT. The topics covered include, but are not limited to race, racism, LGBTQ+ students, students with different socioeconomic backgrounds, and more.
“We cover pronoun usage, identifying, and relating to students on the level that they have requested, and again, that’s part of making sure every single student feels valued, respected, and heard. We want to address every aspect of a student and make sure they feel welcome, whether it’s their race, ethnicity, cultural heritage, their abilities and challenges, how they identify, and how they move about the world,” said English teacher and CARE team instructional coach Dr. Portia Ransom.
“The equity training is to make sure that everybody who walks into this building, primarily students, but also staff, feels like they are valued. Studies show that when people feel like they belong and that they are valued, and they are seen and heard, then they are more successful, whether that is academically or professionally,” shared Ransom.
Staff members meet several times a year, with some of the training sessions taking place during Monday mornings when teachers usually attend meetings.
“Through the C.A.R.E. team, we provide six opportunities during the school year,” said Wilson. A lot of staff members don’t stop at six and choose to attend additional sessions because of their own aspiration to learn and develop.
Equity training has four different pathways created for teachers to be able to pick one that fits them best. “The blue group is responsible for cultural heritage celebrations and acknowledgement. We have the red group for people who might not be as far along in their equity journey and so they want to make sure that they’re getting all the information they need for a firm foundation of that journey.
“We also have the purple group, which is primarily staff, including aids and support staff. Everybody is on a different path, on a different journey, and the reason we’ve created the pathways is because staff made that request. People like choices and they have been responding to these pathways very positively,” explained Ransom.
Ransom herself is in charge of the green group, the fourth pathway available for teachers. She described the way their training session looks, “In the green group, we always start out with some video or podcast that is generally about ten minutes long, just something for them to think about. We then have a general discussion about that video and then they have breakout work, just like they would in Zoom, but they do it in this space.
“So you have faculty and staff, department chairs, we’ve had the superintendent here, we’ve had several people from the district office, and they break up into groups of two and three. I pose questions for them to consider and to discuss amongst themselves and then they report out. They are always robust discussions, they are always enthusiastic, they always go over the time limit because they are so engaged in the discussion.”
The training is designed with hopes that teachers can use what they take away from the session in their classrooms and understand their students better. Regardless of whether they went through the same experiences, they try to learn about any potential struggles students may be going through to provide them with better solutions.
“It should allow teachers to have greater capacity for building relationships with all of their kids. It should allow them to have a curriculum in which all students see themselves and it should allow them to be able to engage in conversations with their students on a variety of different topics,” said department head Dr. Erin Groth, who is in charge of another one of the pathways teachers can choose from for equity training.
“I think the training is effective because as teachers we all look for opportunities to grow and learn. Most of us are teachers because we believe in the learning process. I also think it’s effective because it allows for our teachers to engage in relatively safe spaces for conversation and it also provides people with a variety of pathways in which to grow,” added Groth.
The process of learning about the experiences people of color and LGBTQ+ students go through is a never ending one. The steps taken by AT are steps in the right direction and they are what students need to feel safe here, at school, where their safety and success is most important.