The Importance of PRIDE in Schools 🌈
I've had a 9 year old step-buddy for over a year,
and in that time I've learned something about myself that I hadn't known before: I'm really, really sensitive to young people. Particularly those I'm in close proximity with. I call him a "step-buddy," since my partner and I aren't married, but my role as a parental figure is just as present in our dynamic. At such an impressionable age the mannerisms, awarenesses, habits and thought patterns - no matter how much we think they're hidden - all rub off onto young people. This is the time when kids learn to approach the facets of life from a place of gratitude, acceptance, love, care, resentment, fear, confusion, or hatred. It's a challenge and a privilege for all adults to help these budding beings shape their sense of self-worth and view others with mindful awareness.
My step-buddy's name is Camper- an absolutely brilliant, sensitive, and creative person. He just graduated from the 3rd grade, and in the last week of school before summer vacation, his PE teacher Dian retired. She taught for 15 years at PPS Sunnyside Environmental School, and 33 years total in her career as an educator . Sunnyside is an "environmental school," though the term "Environment" stretches far beyond the soil. At this school, Camper is taught that the environment is made up of all life - the ocean, the land, plants, animals, and people. He learns with direct experience to respect those around him not just by being taught to, but by working with them side by side.
He was very emotional about Dian's departure, and cried while telling his dad and me about how he felt. She was one of his favorite teachers. When we asked him why, he said that she made him feel safe. When he fell down, she would say, "well, you shouldn't have done that!" with a light heart, instead of panicking or overly coddling. He said, "Dian is part of my heart." What I didn't know about Dian until seeing her photo on display in the hallway is that she's queer. I couldn't help but notice that this was not what Camper led with in describing her, and wouldn't need to because he doesn't see her as an "other." Camper is part of the QSA at his school (Queer Straight Alliance), and participates in meetings on Thursdays during the school year. There are educators at Sunnyside who are queer, trans, and gender non-conforming. Because of this, he is not in a position of being guided to passively find these ways of living as wrong or strange. In growing up with these individuals, he is allowed to view them as who they are: people, friends, educators, and members of his community. It also encourages young people to grow with comfort in themselves as they discover who they are. If a student makes a new discovery about themselves that they may not know how to respond to, they will have elders to turn to.
We live in a time where younger individuals are deciding to open up about their identity to parents and other adults, and it's exceedingly important that they get the support they need. Often, that support is not found at home - which makes school the second most impactful environment for them. I remember once hearing a father who did not support their child coming out (as if "coming out" alone created the reality) because they had heard that the suicide rate amongst gay people was much higher. He feared for his sons life, and in an attempt to keep his child safe, he decided that avoidance would somehow solve the considered problem. What he wasn't willing to acknowledge was that this statistic is directly correlated with a lack of parental and adult support. Being ridiculed or shamed creates a sickness of the heart - one that could be avoided well before it begins.
Camper understands that queer rights are human rights, that minority and indigenous rights are human rights, that animal and environmental rights are part of a greater whole, and that he is privileged as a straight white male living in America. None of this is bad news. It's information that he will grow with, living outside of resentment or fear - and walking with gratitude, curiosity, and respect for self and others.
Below are some images taken from his hallway at Sunnyside - all posters made by students. I am so tremendously grateful to know that there is a growing movement within education to think outside of the common narrative and teaching children to do so too.