Centennial Middle School: Day of Silence
One student who tends to be a recluse met with the principal to interview her for a class project that she had chosen about the Day of Silence. The principal directed her to the Allies in Diversity group. This student joined the group even though she was the only sixth-grader among a group of eighth-graders.
She introduced the Day of Silence to the group and the group embraced the idea to raise awareness to the entire student body about issues faced by LGBT populations. They eventually agreed to extend the discussion to issues faced by all disenfranchised populations. The group came up with creative ideas to encourage students to participate, including wearing rainbow cloth to show solidarity and Day of Silence buttons the students created. The sixth-grade student asked her parents to help create stickers for students to wear. The group also educated students about taking a vow of silence in order to stand up for marginalized populations that aren’t given the power to stand up and speak out against injustices targeted on their groups.
A large number of students were fully involved in creating and planning this event, and the student mentioned above, in particular, was very excited about the project. On the actual Day of Silence, this student was boisterous and smiling and thanking each student for their participation and support of the event. This student later expressed pride and was able to give herself credit for initiating this event, and she stated that she was impressed that so many students participated. The student stated, ‘I am so psyched to go to this school.’
The school estimates that approximately 170 students participated in one form or another in the Day of Silence. Several teachers approached the group facilitator and expressed excitement that our group organized this event. One teacher said, ‘This was long overdue and seemed to be a huge success!’ She witnessed students being respectful of students in silence and felt like there was a large percentage of participation in her classes and the event was successful in educating students about being respectful around diversity. Another teacher said he felt he learned something by witnessing and respecting students who were choosing to be in silence.
A parent approached this facilitator and thanked her for planning this schoolwide event. She had a long talk with her son about it and she hoped that he would be participating in the event in some way. The school principal reported that she was proud of the student body participation and she did not hear any negative feedback from students, parents, or school personnel. The Allies members expressed excitement about the day and felt that it had a really big impact on the student body, and they were really excited about their involvement in the event.
Allies facilitator, Centennial Middle School
Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy: Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone
I had a student who stopped attending Allies after about a month. When I sent reminders about the field trip and asked if she was interested in attending, she sent me a letter. In it she apologized for not continuing to participate in the meetings. She disclosed that she was painfully shy and didn’t know anyone in the class, but that she was going to be brave and join next week. For some students — especially in middle school — it is very difficult to do things with people outside their immediate peer group. I was very proud of her and realized that even just participating in Allies was an achievement for some students because it meant they were stretching themselves to talk to others they weren’t familiar with — to be among students different from themselves, and to share their ideas and be open to being friends with others from other social circles.
Counselor, Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy
University Schools: Creating a Community of Compassion
One morning I was in my office and one of my sixth-grade Allies members came in with tears streaming down her face. She disclosed that she had told a friend that she thought she was bisexual and that this person started to spread rumors around the school about her. As I have gotten to know my Allies, I thought of two students who stand out as confident in their sexual orientation and differences. I asked the sixth-grader if it would be OK if I shared her situation with two seventh-grade Allies who could possibly help, and she agreed that she would like some support from these peers. Later that day, I talked to one of the seventh-graders and he was very interested in helping. He even offered to bring along another Ally who could offer support. Before the end of the day, all three students met in my office. It was amazing to see the compassion these students had to offer and how they were able to relate to each other and offer meaningful support and advice.
School Counselor, University Schools
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AXL Academy: From Offender to Upstander
There was one particular student who signed up for Allies Club and I overheard her having a conversation with her friends where she said that she didn’t really see the point, but she didn’t want to not be in a group that included them. This particular student earlier in the year had put a video on a social media platform of another student dancing with the caption ‘gay’ and sent it out to nearly all of the school. While she dealt with consequences at the time with our principal, she never showed real remorse for her actions and still was overheard calling other students ‘faggots.’
I watched her during the Allies group throughout the semester and noticed a slow but steady change in her demeanor. When the group started, she would snicker when the word ‘gay’ was mentioned. She seemed physically uncomfortable when others would take risks about being bullied, etc., because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation.
The second-to-last week of school, I was walking in the hallway and heard a middle school boy telling another kid to ‘stop acting like such a fag.’ I watched the Allies student walk up and quietly ask the boy to walk over to the side with her. I watched from a distance and didn’t really hear the conversation. Afterwards she found me in the hallway and told me the story (she didn’t realize I had watched it play out). She told me about how she explained to him why his words were offensive to people, gay and straight. She then referenced the social media story and gave probably one of the most sincere apologies I’ve ever heard from a middle school student. It was incredibly inspiring to see such authentic self-awareness and a true shift in her thinking.
Director of Communications and Technology, AXL Academy
Erie Middle School: Talking to Kids about Bullying
In an Allies Club meeting at lunch, we looked at (Youth Behavior Risk Survey) data for Boulder County that represented the experiences of LGBT kids in schools. I asked my club how they thought the experiences of kids at Erie Middle School would compare to this data on bullying, harassment, missed school due to feeling unsafe, etc. The first student to answer has high social capital and said that he didn’t think any kind of bullying happened at Erie and that gay kids felt comfortable being open at school. I thanked him for starting the conversation and then asked if anyone else wanted to weigh in.
Kids’ hands started creeping up, and students started sharing language they’d overheard, bullying instances they’d witnessed, and even personal experiences they’d had with homophobia and anti-gay bullying in school. In a classroom packed full of almost 50 typically rowdy eighth-graders, there was absolute silence as students told their stories, and affirmations of love and support afterwards. These students’ ability and willingness to hold the space for others just astounded me. The fairly large contingent of kids with high social capital who regularly attend meetings was very engaged and I think left with a new perspective.
The next meeting, we watched ‘It Gets Better’ videos and brainstormed ways that our club can help the climate at Erie Middle improve so it gets better for kids now. I asked students if they’d ever heard a teacher talk about gender and sexual diversity before, and they shouted ‘NO!’ It’s absolutely apparent from these kids’ desire to take up these topics that including and affirming gender and sexual diversity is an enormous need in schools.
Language Arts teacher, Erie Middle School