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*** Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas – Article 1 of 3  ***


Published on Not in Our Town (http://www.niot.org)

Home > A Middle School GSA: A Refuge Amidst the Swirl of Fitting In

A Middle School GSA: A Refuge Amidst the Swirl of Fitting In

Submitted by alicia on April 20, 2012 - 12:01pm

On the Day of Silence, we share with you the story of one middle school that provided the space for all of its students to have their voices heard. 

"Forming a Gay Straight Alliance at a middle school requires courage—for the administrator to step up, for the teacher who serves as the advisor, and for each student who walks through that door to be a member."

By Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas, Not In Our School Director

Becki Cohn-VargasMy daughter knew she was gay from when she was a young girl, but it wasn’t until middle school that she told me. Not all young people have someone to talk to at that sensitive age. 

At Hoover Middle School in the San Francisco Unified School District, teacher Janet Miller learned frightening statistics about her district’s Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) students at a district training. She discovered that transgender youth were the most likely students to attempt suicide. Impassioned, Janet explains that she got on a table and shouted to the staff, "It’s our job and the job of every single person in this room to enforce safety for all students, not just straight ones, so any time you are not doing it, you are not doing your job!”  She convinced the staff that Hoover needed to do something about this serious issue.

Some educators feel middle school students are too young join a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). Hoover principal Thomas Graven admitted he had never had a GSA at any of the middle schools where he had worked.

“When she proposed that we do so, I was very supportive of it, but I was also a little bit anxious about it because middle school is a time of great difficulty for kids with the transition into adolescence,” Graven said.

One of the first things they did was invite their own LGBTQ students to speak to the school staff. Teachers listened as students shared with great candor the painful experiences of being teased and harassed and the sad reality that when they approached their teachers, little was done.  

With the principal’s support, Miller and students created the GSA, one of the first at a San Francisco middle school. The short film, “A Gay Straight Alliance Creates Unity and a Culture of Acceptance [1],” tells the story of how the student club not only impacted its members, but the entire school and staff at Hoover. Watch their story: 

GSAs at middle schools are still a relatively rare phenomenon. At the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, the path to starting middle school GSAs was a painful one. 

Until March 2012, Anoka-Hennepin District policy stated that “...staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student-led discussions.” The policy rendered Anoka-Hennepin teachers uncertain and afraid, so they stayed silent. The result meant that endemic anti-gay slurs and bullying of LGBTQ students were ignored, often with horrific results.

A string of nine local suicides over a two-year period included four students who were gay or perceived to be gay. One 15-year-old, who committed suicide after having been bullied for being perceived as gay had complained to her mother that classmates had started an "I Hate July Barrick" Facebook page. Anoka-Hennepin students described the daily harassment. Seeing this “neutrality” policy as a virtual gag order, students were left to fend for themselves in a toxic environment and filed a lawsuit last summer, stating that the District did not sufficiently protect LGBTQ students.

In October 2011, Anderson Cooper [2]interviewed the student plaintiffs and in February 2012, a powerful Rolling Stone [3] article [3] put this district’s issues into the national spotlight. In March 2012, the district rescinded the policy and settled [4]with the students.

GSAOne result of the ongoing controversy in Anoka-Hennepin was that this year, for the first time, students initiated a GSA in every middle school in the district. When describing what the GSA meant to one student, he said, “In sixth grade, my only friend here committed suicide. . . . She was the one who reached out to me.. . . I joined the GSA 'cause I wanted to be just like her. I wanted to be nice and—loved."

A GSA can give a voice and refuge to middle school students at a very important period of their lives. With opportunities for allies to become members, LGBTQ students come to feel they are not alone and that their friends will stand with them. This can send a message of acceptance across the entire school, not only those questioning their sexual orientation, but also those who don’t fit in the gender stereotypes or who might not fit in for other reasons.

Forming a GSA at a middle school requires courage—for the administrator to step up, for the teacher who serves as the advisor, and for each student who walks through that door to be a member. For many students, a GSA can be a lifeline and make a difference for young people that will last for the rest of their lives.




*** Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas – Article 2 of 3  ***


MDCR and Partners to Host Anti-Bullying Conference in Traverse City on October 17

The Anti-Bullying Task Force, Northwestern Michigan College, and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights will host the 3rd Annual Anti-Bullying Conference in Traverse City on Friday, October 17.

The conference – with tracks for both youth and adults - will take place from 8:30 am – 2:30 pm at the Hagerty Center on NMC’s Great Lakes Campus, at 715 East Front Street in Traverse City. Admission is free.

Register for the conference here by October 10, 2014.

Student engagement is the focus of this year’s conference, with sessions on helping young people become “Upstanders – standing up to bullying and intolerance in their schools and communities – and kicking off a local “Not In Our School” campaign. Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas, Director of the Not in Our School effort nationwide and a respected voice on bullying prevention, will both speak and facilitate the conference.




*** Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas – Article 3 of 3  ***



Educator Conferences


[ Complete article link here: https://sites.google.com/a/kean.edu/diversitycouncil/calendar/events ]


Register for our Educator Conference on January 24 - "Identity Safety: Strategies to Honor Identity and Reduce Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying!  
We have a great line-up of speakers, including
Becki Cohn-Vargas, author of Identity Safe Classrooms, David Schwartz from Facing History and Ourselves, and Christa Tinari of the National Liberty Museum, and Ana Maria Mistral, of 
NJTESOL/NJBE.   See workshop descriptions below.




More information about our presenters:




Becki Cohn-VargasDr. Becki Cohn-Vargas is the Director of Not In Our School (NIOS). She has spoken on the subject of how to combat bullying at conferences, schools, and universities across the United States. Becki's new book,“Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn,” co-authored with Dr. Dorothy Steele was published by Corwin Press. Prior to working at The WorkingGroup, she spent over 35 years in public education in California. She was a preschool director in Healdsburg, teacher and  principal in the Oakland Unified School District, Elementary Curriculum Director for the Palo Alto Unified School District and Superintendent of the Luther Burbank School District. While serving in Palo Alto in 2003, Becki initiated Not In Our School: Palo Alto, one of the first NIOS initiatives featured on KQED public television. Since that time, this yearly K-12 district-wide effort to combat bullying, harassment, homophobia, and racism has served as a model for the national NIOS program. Currently, as the NIOS Director she develops standards-based bullying prevention curriculum and has worked with over 150 NIOS efforts at schools and colleges across the UniteStates. She has been hosted at the White House twice where she briefed President Obama’s education staff. Her efforts have included partnerships with the PTA, NEA, Facing History, the United Sikhs, and most recently the Furious Five legendary rap group who is doing a pro bono public service announcement for NIOS. 

Here are some descriptions of the exciting workshops we are offering:

Keynote address from Becki Cohn-Vargas: 

It is 2014, the year No Child Behind proposed to have all students at grade level. Yet, the under-achievement of students of color persists. Too many remedies focus on boosting test scores and controlling behavior. Identity safe teaching promotes a sense in students that their social identity is an asset rather than a barrier to success, whatever their background. Research on identity safety has shown that in classrooms where the teacher inspires, guides, encourages, and challenges students, and sees their diversity as a resource, they perform at higher levels and like school and feel more identity safe.  Today we will explore identity safety- as an idea and in classroom  practice.


Becki Cohn-Vargas' workshop: Identity Safe Classrooms: places to belong and learn

The workshop highlights four areas of focus that emerged from research: 1. Classroom relationships (positive) between teacher and student and among students, 2. child-centered teaching with a  thinking curriculum (Common Core-focused) and, 3. caring classroom environments and management systems that promote emotional and physical comfort; and 4. cultivating diversity as a resource together with challenging curriculum and high expectations. Through videos and small group activities and discussion, participants will explore how to create identity safety in elementary classrooms.


[ … ]


The Diversity Council sponsors bi-annual teacher conferences    Previous conference speakers and topics  have included:

GLSEN's Kevin Jennings, " Making Your School Safe: A Teacher Workshop on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues "



Our 2012 Educator Conference extended our February general assembly meeting and addressed a timely issue for New Jersey schools: anti-bullying education and legislation.  

First, we welcomed a performance of “Shadows”, a multi-media music and theatrical anti-bullying program by students from Franklin Township High School. In its remarkable collaborative effort,  “Shadows” is a drama developed by students, with teacher guidance, with a very special purpose.  The mission of “Shadows” is to teach middle and high school aged students about the effects of bullying and to build awareness of the role each one plays in preventing it.  The project was initiated by Jennifer Little, Franklin High School Theater Arts teacher and Michael Pinnix, Franklin High School Video Production teacher.  Students developed the program from inception to finish.  

"Shadows” has been awarded the prestigious 2011 Golden Bell Leadership Award from the Mental Health Association of New Jersey.   Students participated in a talk back with our educators after the performance.  

[ … ]

Anti-Bullying Workshop with Jennifer Little and Michael Pinnix, Franklin Township High School

  What can a kid do about bullying? What can a teacher do? At Franklin High School the students used the arts to create change! They created “Shadows,” a drama developed with a very special purpose as a tool to create dialogue and awareness of bullying in our community. “Shadows” was a recipient of the prestigious 2011 Golden Bell Leadership Award from the Mental Health Association in New Jersey. The critically acclaimed program continues to grow this year as students perform and build on last year’s work by creating a Year of Respect in the district. In addition, it has received recognition from the Governor of New Jersey, the NJ Dept. of Education and the Mayor of Somerset.  Today’s workshop will introduce teachers to various hands-on techniques on creating dialogue, applied theatre activities to do with students, using arts and media to help any school create and implement their own grassroots, student-initiated anti-bullying program.




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