Posts Tagged ‘schools’

Four Victories You Can Celebrate



By | It's Elementary, Let's Get Real, Respect For All Project, Straightlaced, That's A Family!

“I’m ready for 2015 to end!” Have you been thinking that? Some days, I do too. But I want to remind you of four fantastic things that happened this year—in small part because of GroundSpark’s culture changing work—and because of your support.

When we started our Respect for All Project 20 years ago, the idea that marriage equality would become the law of the land wasn’t even a pipedream. So, at the time, it was stunning when we filmed fourth graders for It’s Elementary—Talking About Gay Issues in School having a reasonable classroom discussion about whether or not gay people should be allowed to marry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=EH5gfqC8V6g&feature=youtu.be

THIS YEAR, the Supreme Court finally settled the debate the students are having in this scene!

     (Click photo to see the scene) 

What’s more, the number of colleges of education ordering educational streaming licenses for It’s Elementary continued to grow—which means the next generation of K-12 teachers is learning how to support their students to develop critical thinking skills and a passion for justice.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=EH5gfqC8V6g&feature=youtu.be  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fifteen years ago, when we produced a film that modeled how to talk to children about all different kinds of family structures—including those with gay or lesbian parents, it was still illegal for gay people to adopt children in many states. No wonder That’s a Family!struck a nerve in school district after school district.

<<< (Click to watch trailer) 

 

 

THIS YEAR, couples in Mississippi, the last state in the country that still bans gay couples from adopting, filed suit to challenge that law. It’s gratifying to see schools in more conservative areas coming around to use That’s a Family! Now they really have no excuse but to be inclusive of all different kinds of families.

When we were making Let’s Get Real, our documentary about bias-based bullying, I remember people scoffing. “That’s just the way kids are. And that’s the way it will always be.” Only a handful of states had any laws or policies addressing the bullying epidemic.

  (Click to watch trailer) >>>>

 

 

THIS YEAR, Montana finally became the 50th state to get on board. It has become completely unacceptable for schools to ignore this issue any more. And GroundSpark launched a new campaign to reach out to PTAs to use Let’s Get Real to help parents and guardians understand what they can do to help the climate at their children’s schools.

When we were filming Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, one of the gay students in the film talked about how, by appearing on camera, he was putting his Eagle Scout award at risk because the Boy Scouts had a ban on gay members and troop leaders.

(Watch!) 

 

 

THIS YEAR, the Boy Scouts finally dropped the ban, something we could barely even hope for when we made the film! And hundreds of teachers took advantage of the Straightlaced free streaming for Ally Week and No Name Calling week that GroundSpark provided with the help of our donors.

As 2015 comes to a close, let’s honor these victories. Please take a minute to renew your support to GroundSpark with as generous a gift as you can. You can help insure that we will be able to ignite change with film just as successfully in 2016.

These Pros Were Happy to Give Up Their Saturday. We would love to make you happy on your day off too!



By | Professional Development, Straightlaced

eileen-and-trainees-webOn a beautiful sunny Saturday, forty professionals showed up to watch Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up and learn strategies for how to open up conversations about gender and sexuality with their students. They came from 10 counties and wore many different hats: foster care program coordinator, health education specialist, teacher and director of curriculum and culture, nurse practitioner, director of diversity and inclusion, social emotional counselor.  Some came to deepen their expertise; some had never had any professional development before about these topics and many had previously avoided addressing these sensitive issues with youth.

Immediately GroundSpark facilitators Serian Strauss and Eileen Glaser set the tone for the day. This was going to be a safe place to practice talking about tough issues.  Everyone would leave with a concrete action plans. And,  we were going to have fun!

trainee2-dancing-webFor six hours the group examined the messages that young people receive about how to act, think, look, love, and learn—depending on their gender and culture. Using the stories of the real high school students in Straightlaced, they then learned and shared ways to support the youth they work with who are going through the same kinds of things. They practiced how to handle difficult scenarios on the fly—like hearing homophobic language in the hallways or talking with colleagues who are uncomfortable with a transgender student. Finally each person brought all the resources and learning together by sketching out personal action plans that made sense for their workplace…not to mention a great Thai food buffet for lunch!

I showed up at the end to say hello and was heartened to see so many glowing faces.  As we handed out Straightlaced DVDs, curriculum guides, and movie posters to participants on their way out, they were effusive:

” I would love for any day of professional development to be even 50% as enriching as the conversations led today!”

” I so appreciated your care, inclusiveness and organization. You created a safe space that modeled a wonderful example for us as educators.”

“Now I have a structure for how I will start, as well as a deeper understanding of the race/gender expression issue.”

“Serian and Eileen did an amazing job facilitating a multi-layered, sometimes difficult topic.”

GroundSpark was able to provide this free training thanks to generous funding from the San Francisco Foundation. Now we are looking for opportunities to bring this kind of professional development program to other areas in the country. If you are connected to a funder or organization that could host this kind of professional development, please get in touch with our education program coordinator, Eileen Glaser, at eglaser@groundspark.org!

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We would love to make you happy on your day off too!

Groundspark Launches First Ever Respect for All Institute; Educators Applaud Hands-On Workshop



By | It's Elementary, It's STILL Elementary, Let's Get Real, Straightlaced, That's A Family!

rfap-training-smOne by one, rocks with words like courage, humor and perseverance began to pile up. The participants of the first-ever Respect for All Institute introduced themselves, and brought these stones, on which they had written their strengths, to a common table. This activity, “We Rock,” was just the first of many that would build attendees’ skills, capacity and leadership to address bias, deal with bullying dynamics, support diverse students and families, and thereby help all students succeed.

Just like the Institute brought together a group of dedicated participants – teachers-in-training, seasoned educators and administrators, school counselors, curriculum planners and social workers – and their many assets, for the first time Groundspark brings together all of the nationally celebrated films in the Respect for All series in a two day intensive institute.

While we have offered workshops and professional development about important issues such as family diversity, prejudice, bias and bullying, and the pressures young people face around issues of gender and sexual orientation, since 1992, this new Respect for All Institute brings together all of these subjects in a comprehensive training for educators and other adults working with youth.

“This program allows me to be a change agent in my communities, both professionally and personally,” praised one of 35 educators and school staff, who attended this pilot program hosted at the University of Connecticut and in partnership with the National Network for Educational Renewal (NNER).

“Groundspark’s films and guide books provide a wonderful opportunity to discuss challenging topics. I also appreciate the hands-on approach to work with and respond to the diverse constituencies in my school,” she continued.

Groundspark’s approach to creating safe and inclusive schools is about modeling safety and inclusiveness and cultivating a positive, energizing, and hopeful tone in all of our efforts. “I enjoyed the different activities that allowed us to meet other people, role-play and simply be in a vulnerable room where we could all share and relate to our experiences,” offered another participant.

In this environment, participants found that they could more easily explore how identity-based bias manifests and is perpetuated in many areas of school life, laying the foundation for bullying, harassment and violence of all kinds. “I am taking away realizations that bias is all around whether regarding race, culture, family structure or gender,” another educator reflected at the end our work together, “I have to be a leader and teach my faculty about addressing these biases.”

After viewing That’s A Family, participants were invited to draw what a family meant to them. As each shared their drawings, some with laughter and others with tears, the group realized how the definition of family could be a broad one. Raised by a single mom and growing up on her own, one educator realized how her own academic achievement was connected to her family experience and how recognizing the strengths and needs of all families would impact her own students. A light bulb went off as another participant pointed out that even the name; “Parent-Teacher Conference” was not welcoming to the constellations of family members that support some of her students.

Later in the workshop, participants practiced applying the principles of inclusion and safety ideas to students dealing with issues of race and sexual orientation from Let’s Get Real, by brainstorming strategies and solutions they could implement at an institutional level to support similar students at their own schools.

At the end of two full days, educators and administrators devised actionable individual and community plans to take back to their own schools. We hope that leaving the institute with a concrete road map – complete with due dates, strategies for working with colleagues for mutual support and follow-up steps – will springboard inspiration and new learning into powerful action.

One teacher said, “While my school climate is far from perfect, I feel confident that we have an abundance of resources, especially people to make it an inclusive community. I am encouraged by the words and ideas of my colleagues and others who do the work I do. I feel more people share my values than I thought.”

Leaving our first Respect for All Project Institute, participants were excited and empowered to make their schools a place where students and teachers have respect for all. I shared in their excitement and can’t wait to bring this new, comprehensive model to more educators across the country in 2014! We will be hosting a Respect for All Institute in the Bay Area in the Fall of 2014 – let us know if you would like to participate!

 

Launching a New Program for Parents and Guardians to Address Bullying and Build Positive School Climate



By | blog, Let's Get Real, Respect For All Project

PTA Meetings Here We Come!

flier-imageWhen I was making Let’s Get Real, my oldest son was a middle school student. He had graduated from an elementary school that did a good job at community building but then found himself in sixth grade at a school site that didn’t do anything to acknowledge–let alone address –the vast differences among the student body when it came to economic status, race, language, immigration status and family configuration.

My son came home with disturbing stories about racial tension and homophobic harassment in the hall. I went with a group of parents to meet with the principal. She told us not to worry because she had a simple solution to the bullying problem: “we suspend the bullies.” Period. End of story.

I wished then that there had been a way to bring parents and guardians at the school together to talk about what our children were experiencing and work together toward some solutions. Instead I kept working on Let’s Get Real, hoping it could help change the climate at my son’s school and many others as well.

That’s why I am thrilled to announce that GroundSpark and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRCF) are launching a new initiative to support parents and guardians in addressing bias-related name-calling and bullying in their children’s elementary and middle schools.

Through our Respect for All Project, we are partnering with HRCF’s Welcoming Schools program to provide all the tools and materials needed to present a two-hour evening program for any PTA, PTO, or community group. The program is part of the national effort to address bullying through National Bullying Awareness Month.

The extensive program resouces consist of:

  • a DVD copy and curriculum guide of our highly acclaimed half hour documentary, Let’s Get Real;
  • a new short DVD produced by Welcoming Schools, What We Can Do? Bias, Bullying and Bystanders;
  • a guide to help organizers facilitate a workshop that leads to action at their school;
  • publicity tools, and other support.

I strongly believe that parents and guardians are the third leg of the stool that must be engaged in order to have a safe school. This program and partnership with Welcoming Schools will help strengthen any school’s work with staff and students.

We’ve made it very easy for any group of parents to turn their interest and concern into action. The films and structured activities will help families understand what kinds of bullying students are experiencing and observing and help communities take a serious look at how factors like race, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, economic status, religion, country of origin, physical or learning disabilities are involved in many bullying situations.

To learn more about the program and to sign up for an event and purchase the kit, visit www.groundspark.org/welcoming schools.

Staff Training & Community Workshops from Respect for All Project



By | Events, It's Elementary, Latest News, Let's Get Real, Respect For All Project, Straightlaced, That's A Family!

classroom2School’s in full swing and so is our program to help schools ensure community wide respect for every student.

Our highly skilled facilitators help open up dialogue, expand staff expertise and strengthen community support for:

  • Cultivating a safe school climate
  • Preventing violence
  • Addressing bias-based bullying
  • Closing the achievement gap
  • Improving emotional health
  • Welcoming family diversity
  • Promoting character education
  • Empowering youth to develop positive identity around issues of gender, race and sexual orientation
  • Tackling homophobia through LGBT inclusive education

Learn more

Respect for All Project workshops are centered around our highly acclaimed award-winning documentary films, including Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, Let’s Get Real, It’s Elementary—Talking About Gay Issues in School, It’s STILL Elementary, and That’s a Family!

Every workshop ends with a concrete action plan, customized for your school or organization—because we know you don’t just want to talk, you want to act. Participants leave with the tools, including curriculum, for individuals and groups to create more safety and opportunity for all young people.

  • Contact us for a preliminary call so we can understand your needs and suggest an appropriate workshop for your school, district or association. Some partial subsidies may be available thanks to the generosity of our funders and donor community.
  • See where we have trained.
  • Learn about our impact.
  • Contact us about a professional development workshop or community forum today.

Marriage Equality in New York? It’s Elementary!



By | It's Elementary, It's STILL Elementary

Sixteen years ago, producer Helen Cohen and I were at PS 87 in New York City filming a fifth grade class during a civics lesson. “Today the law says that if you’re the same sex —two men or two women— you can’t get married, it is against the law,” their teacher explained. And then he set up a class assignment for students to debate whether or not the law should change.

When the news broke last Friday that New York had changed its discriminatory marriage laws, I immediately thought of this incredible scene in It’s Elementary—Talking About Gay Issues in School, the film Helen and I ended up making with the footage we shot that day.

These children had the opportunity, in elementary school, to think critically—with their teacher’s support—about whether or not it was fair for same sex couples to be denied equal legal rights. Today these same students are 25 and 26 years old! And they are part of the electorate that voted in the current representatives in the New York state legislature.

We couldn’t possibly have imagined when we completed It’s Elementary that it would continue to be so relevant and utilized 16 years later. But every week new copies of the film go out to school districts across the country.

Sometimes it’s because states have enacted new anti-bullying legislation and school districts need ways to help their teachers and staff members understand why it’s so important to be pro-active in addressing bias. Sometimes it’s because there has been some horrible hate crime or suicide and the district wants to do everything it can to prevent another tragedy.

And sometimes, it’s just because the cultural tide is turning and staff need support on how to grapple with their students’ questions about why the government treats LGBT people differently than everyone else.

Educators watch the film, or our companion documentary, It’s STILL Elementary. They use the highly regarded curriculum guide for these films that offers support on how and why to address LGBT issues in school settings. Inevitably these screenings and trainings build teachers’ understanding and confidence, preparing them to lead age-appropriate lessons for their students that are inclusive and welcoming to LGBT people and families.

Even more importantly, they support educational pedagogy which prioritizes critical thinking skills, respect, and compassion.

I hope we don’t have to wait for all of today’s elementary school children to grow up and become voters before we truly have full legal equality throughout the United States.

But for today, we’re celebrating the fact that if we were to film that same scene again right now in New York, the lesson would be different: today, in New York, two people of the same sex do have the right to marry!

The President Gets a ‘B’ on Bullying — Grading The White House Conference



By | Straightlaced

Originally published in The Huffington Post

Hats off to the Obamas for drawing national attention to the problem of bullying in our school communities. Hosting a conference at the White House to draw more media attention to bullying is an excellent step forward.

Like most symbolic White House gatherings, though, this conference recommended some good steps forward but also carefully avoided some important strategies that need to be put in place if we are ever going to truly stop bullying.

Here’s my report card on what I heard on the live feed from the White House Thursday.

Raising the level of public awareness about the importance of addressing bullying in schools:

A+

“Bullying is not just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up,” the president said. “We can take steps — all of us — to help prevent bullying and create a climate in our schools in which all of our children can feel safe; a climate in which they all can feel like they belong.”

I couldn’t agree with him more.

Drawing attention to the fact that bias issues underlie many bullying incidents.

B

The president deserves credit for acknowledging that many students are targeted because of some aspect of their identity. “[Bullying] is also more likely to affect kids that are seen as different,” the President said, “whether it’s because of the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, the disability they may have, or sexual orientation.”

He acknowledged the families of two youths who committed suicide last year, one of them, Carl Walker Hoover, because of being tormented by homophobic harassment.

But he failed to explain that bias-infused harassment affects all youth, not just those who have are seen as “different.” Anti-LGBT stigma and the pressure to conform to gender norms, for example, affects all girls and boys regardless of how they may identify sexually at any point in their lives.
Calling for system wide efforts for curricula that address rampant anti-LGBT stigma, racial and ethnic stereotypes, mental and physical disabilities, religious differences, and pressures to conform to gender norms.

C

Acknowledging the families of those who endured bias-based harassment is not the same as calling for pro-active education that prevents that bias from developing in the first place. It is definitely possible to pull school communities together to take initiative against bias. I know we can because we have been helping to do that for years with GroundSpark’s Respect for All Project.

Shifting the focus from individual responses to bullying to communitywide culture-changing ones.

B-

The selection of experts on the panel that spoke after Mr. and Mrs. Obama were focused primarily on psychological and behavioral factors, which, of course, contribute to bullying. But only one, Professor George Sugai, encouraged the discussion to focus on sociological factors, namely changing the culture in schools.

Advocating for funding and programs that train every teacher on how to address bullying and the bias that underlies it.

C

One speaker mentioned that we need more teacher training. While another commented on the fact that while 40 states have anti-cyber bullying laws, none of them have provided funding to enforce them. Lack of training for individual teachers and for school staff as a whole is probably the single most significant stumbling block to changing school culture.


Moving from rhetoric to action

B

The White House announced several programs that Facebook, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and others are launching to step up ways to address bullying.

And kudos are deserved for the federal government’s launch of www.stopbullying.gov, which amazingly includes a section for LGBT youth. But the website has no resources to help schools and educators address bias issues, or to help train teachers or to help with a systematic approach to change school climate.

Overall Grade Point Average

B

Areas for Improvement

1. Tie federal funding for education to mandatory anti-bias and anti-bullying training for school personnel that focuses on school wide culture change, not just stronger discipline.

2. Bravely call for more pro-active curricula that help students learn about why all kinds of stigma, including homophobia, are harmful to everyone and how they can be allies to stop it.

Mr. President, you made significant progress during this grading period, and we hope you can realize your full potential in the semesters to come.

 

School District Does the Right Thing:
Vallejo Won’t Let Students “Opt-Out” of Anti-Bullying Curriculum



By | blog, Latest News, Let's Get Real, Respect For All Project, Straightlaced, That's A Family!

Last night the Vallejo Unified School District 30 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, voted 4 – 1 to continue its anti-bullying curriculum for students in its elementary, middle, and high schools.

The curriculum was put in place as the result of a settlement negotiated by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California on behalf of a lesbian student in the district who was being harassed —by faculty and staff at her school—because of her sexual orientation.

High School Student Takes On Anti-Gay Harassment...And WinsThe district agreed to bring age-appropriate lessons about diversity and standing up against bullying and name-calling into every classroom, and also to provide training to all faculty and staff about anti-gay harassment and discrimination. GroundSpark’s films and educational resources are being used at all grade levels to help implement this plan.

At a contentious board meeting last night, parents were split in their opinions about the curriculum. Many, including the mother of the young woman who had been harassed, applauded the district’s efforts to prevent further harassment.

I saw how it affected her,” Sheree Hamilton said in reference to her daughter, Roxanne. “She fell into a deep depression. She didn’t laugh anymore. She fell behind in school.”

“Teenagers, gay teenagers committing suicide: why? Because this education was not there,” said another parent, Franklin Hernandez.

As has been true in other school districts, the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative activist organization opposed to any discussion of LGBT people in schools, played a role in organizing parents to oppose the district’s anti-bullying work.

At last night’s meeting, some speakers objected to the district having a curriculum that acknowledges families headed by gay or lesbian parents, or curriculum for teenage students that discusses anything related to sexual orientation or gender norms. Others claimed that the district’s implementation of this curriculum without giving them the option to “opt-out” their children from the lessons constitutes “bullying” by the district.

Despite this vocal opposition, the school board members stood behind the anti-bullying curriculum.

We are very proud that the district is using our Respect for All Project resources to help implement its initiative. Elementary school students watch That’s a Family! which introduces respectful awareness of what it means to grow up in families headed by parents who are divorced, single, different races, lesbian or gay, as well as those who are being raised by adoptive parents or guardians.

In middle school they are watching Let’s Get Real, which helps open up discussion about harassment connected to racial tension, religious differences, anti-gay stigma, difference in family income, immigration status and more.

And in high school, students are watching Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, a proven catalyst for helping all upper level students think about how pressures to conform to gender role norms can lead students to collude with anti-gay harassment, engage in risky sexual practices, or get violent.

As part of GroundSpark’s response to this fall’s wave of media attention on teen suicide related to homophobic bullying and harassment, we have been offering free streaming of all of our Respect for All Project films through the end of the year.

Just click on our anti-bullying spark to find out more.

(For That’s a Family! click here for free streaming in support of National Adoption Day)

One For The History Books….



By | Respect For All Project

GroundSpark has been keeping our eyes on textbooks the past few months, as new guidelines about their content were enacted across the world. Schools rely heavily on textbooks, and the information they contain forms the building blocks for how youth see each other and the world.

As we optimistically shared to our Facebook fans, the Taiwan Ministry of Education has decided to begin including positive mentions of LGBT issues and people in 11 different content areas beginning in 2011. The Ministry of Educated justified the move by saying, “Students should be able to grow up happily in an environment of tolerance and respect,” and further recognized that teaching materials need to adequately reflect social diversity — two core inspirations for the work of our Respect For All Project.

Unfortunately, closer to home, a dramatic debate played out in front of the Texas State Board of Education. In considering over 300 proposed changes to the events, people, and philosophies that students learn, the Board rewrote history with a profound conservative and Judeo-Christian bias. Among some of the revisions: removing references to ‘the separation of church and state,’ deleting Cesar Chavez as an important historical figure and adding Rush Limbaugh, and highlighting the work of Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the anti-gay Eagle Forum. One frustrated board member said the new rules, “Pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.”

The changes, which were voted on and approved this week, will have a ripple effect across the country. Texas is one of the largest markets for educational materials, and the state’s new textbook rules will change the content available to other states. In light of this news, GroundSpark remains even more committed to working tirelessly to ensure accurate and inclusive curriculum is available in every classroom. Stay tuned to our facebook page, blog and Twitter account to keep abreast of the ways our films and resources are being used across the country.

Sobering Start to our Let’s Get Real Training in Asheville, NC



By | Let's Get Real

At the end of April, our Respect For All Project facilitators, Nancy Otto and Scott Hirschfeld, led a training in Asheville, North Carolina centered around our anti-bullying film Let’s Get Real. The training was organized by Safe Schools for All, an emerging alliance in western North Carolina of organizations committed to addressing bias-based harassment in the region’s schools. Scott kicked off the session by sharing a gripping suicide note of a 14-year old boy, named Hamed who, after being relentlessly tormented by his peers with slurs like big-nose, four-eyes, geek and fag, 14-year-old Hamed became so depressed that he saw only one way out.

IMG_0506

GroundSpark trainer Nancy Otto (standing) facilitates a small group discussion

The training attendees—teachers, after school youth service providers, principals, parents, and a couple of clergymembers—asked if we could share Hamed’s last note to his parents, which Scott read out loud at the training. And so we are reprinting it here below. It was printed in the book Cyber Bullying: Issues and Solutions for the School by Shaheen Shariff (Taylor & Francis, Inc.).There is an article about Hamed online.

Here is the excerpt from Hamed’s five-page suicide note explaining his decision:

“Dear Mom and Dad, The first thing is, I love you Mom and Dad, but you didn’t understand why I had to commit suicide.  There was so much going on and I tried to cope with it, but I couldn’t take it anymore…It was horrible.  Every day I was teased and teased, everyone calling me gay, fag, queer, and I would always act like it didn’t bug me…But I was crying inside me.  It hurt me so bad ……and when people said it, my own friends never backed me up.  They just laughed…  I know that you are going to miss me and that you will never forgive me, but you will never understand.  You weren’t living my life.  I hate myself for doing this to you.  I really, really hate myself, but there is no other way out for me…I love you Dad and Mom.  Please, please tell the people at school why I did this.  I don’t want somebody else to do what I have done.  Mom, after my death please, please go to schools and talk to kids that bullying and teasing has big consequences…Please visit my grave often so I’m not lonely.”

After watching Let’s Get Real and going through the training, the 65 trainees were each eager to start working on the action plan they developed for their own schools and community groups. “It’s an intense way to start off,” Scott reflects, “but it certainly gets us all on the same page about how high the stakes are and how important it is that we all work harder to address these issues.”