Special to 1808Delaware

Westerville City Schools continues its efforts to create a more inclusive environment for all students. This past summer, the district offered professional development for staff that was intended to deepen their understanding of LGBTQIA+ youth perspectives, as well as how they can be supportive of them as they grow and develop.

“If we are going to create an inclusive environment for all of our students, we have to recognize where all of our students are coming from,” said Anitra Simmons, the district’s Educational Equity coordinator.

“The main reason we wanted to (offer these sessions) is to be able to inform and educate our staff because we are seeing students that are starting to identify in this way in our buildings,” she said.

The district hosted multiple staff professional development sessions with Kaleidoscope Youth Center, starting with school equity facilitators in June and administrators in July. Kaleidoscope held sessions during Westerville Educator Day, where teachers and staff could sign up to participate. The same professional development opportunity will be made available to school board members.

Simmons said it was important to scale the professional development opportunity across the district’s entire learning community.

“This provides a base level of knowledge for everyone,” she said. “It keeps us all on the same page and will help inform our next steps.”

Two leaders at Kaleidoscope — Amanda Erickson, director of Education & Outreach and Sin Guanci, manager of the Ohio Gay Straight Alliance Network — led the professional development sessions. Sessions provided foundational knowledge of where LGBTQ youth are coming from and covered topics such as gender identity and affirming language, as well as language to avoid and the use of pronouns.

Kaleidoscope is the largest and longest-standing organization in Ohio solely dedicated to serving and supporting queer youth. They have a variety of resources available, including a Drop-in Center that provides a safe space for those ages 12 to 20. Erickson said kids and teens share their troubled interactions and experiences while at the Drop-in Center. Oftentimes, those incidents occur at school.

“It may be something (an adult) said to them, what they are wearing or who they choose to sit next to,” she said. “It’s things kids are saying to them in the hallway at school and whether or not (someone is) stepping in and cutting off those conversations or whether they are just ignoring it.”

“We at Kaleidoscope believe that every single person is the expert in their own identity,” she said. “No matter how young they are – even if they are questioning. Even if they don’t know what their gender or sexuality is. We have to trust young people to let us know how they are feeling, let us know how they are identifying and how to support them.”

Source, Photo: Westerville City Schools

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