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New Web Package: Bridge to the Ballot

It’s big year for educators who teach civil rights! Fifty years ago this spring, three famous marches took place in Selma, Alabama, all of which helped spur the passage of the Voting Rights Act in August of 1965.

The nation is watching Selma again—through films, news coverage, exhibits, novels and lessons tailored for the classroom. Selma may be a household name now, but activists had been laying groundwork for years prior to the famous marches, and understanding that history is crucial to understanding the upcoming anniversaries. Our new Web package—“Bridge to the Ballot”—can help you effectively teach about the struggle for voting rights in the South, before, during and after the Selma-to-Montgomery March.

Civil rights history deserves more than our commemoration. Barriers still exist to equal voting rights in the United States, and the classroom is one setting where that fact can and should be interrogated. The resources in “Bridge to the Ballot” can help you empower your students to apply the lessons of Selma—including the power of the vote—in their own communities. We hope you’ll explore and share!

It’s Mix Model School Time!

2014 was a banner year for creative and successful Mix It Up at Lunch Days! If your school put together a great Mix event and has kept the Mix spirit going all year, we hope you’ll apply to have your school designated as a Mix It Up Model School.

As a Mix Model School, your school will be recognized for fostering the kind of welcoming school environment all students deserve. We'll profile your school on the Mix It Up website, showing educators and students across the country—and even around the world—how a committed team can do Mix It Up at Lunch Day well. Your efforts will serve as an example for other schools striving for inclusiveness.

How to Become a Mix It Up Model School

Mix It Up Model Schools embrace respect and inclusiveness as core values and mix it up throughout the year. The 2014-2015 Mix It Up Model Schools will have demonstrated creativity and success in the following areas:

1. Participation: Your school hosted a Mix It Up at Lunch Day in 2014 (it did not have to fall on National Mix It Up at Lunch Day, Oct. 28).

2. Extension: Your school followed up with at least two additional Mix It Up-related programs or events on your campus.

3. Organization: Diverse members of the school community (e.g., cafeteria staff, aides, administration, teachers or students) helped organize Mix It Up.

4. Publicity: Your school publicized Mix It Up at Lunch Day or celebrated inclusiveness through a variety of channels, such as posters, announcements and other media.

5. Implementation: Your students and colleagues saw Mix It Up at Lunch Day as effective and fun!

Don’t meet all the criteria yet? No worries. Applications aren't due until February 18.

We’re looking forward to reading your success story!

What We’re Reading This Week: January 23

AL.com: The Southern Poverty Law Center case on behalf of Birmingham, Alabama students sprayed with mace by high school resource officers went before a federal judge this week.

AL.com: U.S. Representatives Martha Roby and Terri Sewell have co-sponsored a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to activists who marched in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 on what is now called “Bloody Sunday."

Black Girl Dangerous: Princess Harmony Rodriguez shares a deeply personal essay on growing up transgender and the life-saving role that anime played in her younger years by providing rare positive images reflective of her identity.

Common Dreams: This opinion piece situates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s views on education within a discussion of school privatization and educational inequities today.

Disability Scoop: John McDonald, an autistic student, and his family filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice after John was forced to leave his service dog outside his school.

Fusion: Dubbed "Girl Scouts for the modern age," the Radical Brownies are a troop of girls who focus their civic engagement efforts on racial equality and becoming better allies.

National Public Radio: This middle school class is learning about Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner—all semester long. Take a few minutes to listen to the students' perspectives and their teacher's guidance.

The Washington Post: A new report by the Southern Education Foundation finds that the majority of U.S. public school students live in poverty.

The White House: Teen representatives of the Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) initiative attended the White House Tribal Nations Conference this week to discuss issues specific to Native youth and the barriers that keep them from success.

If you come across a current article or blog you think other educators should read, please send it to editor@tolerance.org and put What We’re Reading This Week in the subject line.

Supporting LGBTQ Youth in the Wake of Suicide

Editor's Note: This blog post first appeared on Gender Spectrum's website under the title "Responses in the Wake of Suicide: What You Can Do to Support Gender-expansive and Transgender Youth." It is reposted here with permission.

Gender Spectrum joins in the pain and sorrow following the recent death of a transgender* teenager whose online expression of pain and call to action has gone viral.

The outpouring of support from those sharing this story clearly comes from those yearning to make the world a better place for young people.

But while online calls to action can be effective tools to create visibility and action, there can also be a downside to some viral stories depicting deaths by suicide.

Three years ago twelve LGBTQ and Mental Health Organizations co-published a guide with recommendations about how to talk about suicide and LGBTQ youth. The document shared the best research in the field, which indicated that:

  1. Viral campaigns about suicide and LGBTQ youth can make suicide seem like a logi­cal consequence of the kinds of bullying, rejection, discrimination and exclusion that LGBTQ people often experience
  2. Idealizing people who have died by suicide may encourage others to identify with the victim or seek to emulate them
  3. The underlying causes of most suicide deaths are complex and can’t be explained by one incident or factor
  4. Detailed descriptions of a person’s suicide death can be a factor in leading vulnerable individuals to imitate the act

We encourage everyone who cares about transgender young people and suicide to learn more by reading this 4 page document.

Now is a time for us to be proactive. We all have a responsibility to use the variety of tools at our disposal to educate, legislate, counsel, organize, and demonstrate so that no young people feel that being transgender means their life is not worth living.

We need to identify the many ways in which individuals experience personal resiliency while facing the challenges inherent in society’s narrowly defined gender roles.

It is not enough to temporarily mobilize in the wake of tragedy. There are simple, yet powerful things every one of us can all do as a regular part of our lives. Gender Spectrum collaborated with the HRC Foundation in 2014 on a report called, “Supporting and Caring for Our Gender-Expansive Youth.” In the report we identify three ways we can all make a difference for youth:

  1. Educate yourself. There is so much more to gender than we realize. Even for those of us who spend our lives dedicated to this issue, we continue to learn every day.
  2. Create space in which children and youth can safely explore gender identity** and expression. Listen to what young people are telling you about themselves. You don’t need to worry about what to say, just listening will make a tremendous difference.
  3. Advocate for more gender-inclusive environments within your community’s schools, medical facilities, religious and other institutions. Your voice can make all the difference to a child or teen who otherwise feels isolated and alone.

Before you forward a viral image or story related to young person who died from suicide, consider how you can help youth see a future that they can be a part of.

The Gender Spectrum website has considerable resources focused on parenting, teens, education, medical, legal, mental health, social services and faith.

Additional useful resources include:

  1. PFLAG: provides specific resources for parents with transgender children.
  2. The Family Acceptance Project: a research, intervention, education and policy initiative that works to prevent health and mental health risks for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children and youth, including suicide, homelessness and HIV – in the context of their families.
  3. The Transgender Law Center: works to change law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression.
  4. The Trevor Project: provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.

*Transgender: Sometimes used as an umbrella term to describe anyone whose identity or behavior falls outside of stereotypical gender norms. More narrowly defined, it refers to an individual whose gender identity does not match their assigned birth sex. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation (attraction to people of a specific sex and/or gender.) Therefore, transgender people may additionally identify with a variety of other sexual identities as well.

**Gender identity: One’s innermost core concept of self which can include male, female, a blend of both or neither, and many more—how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different than the sex assigned at birth. Individuals become conscious of this between the ages 18 months and 3 years. Most people develop a gender identity that matches their biological sex. For some, however, their gender identity is different from their biological or assigned sex. Some of these individuals choose to socially, hormonally and/or surgically change their physical appearance to more fully match their gender identity and some do not.

Gender Spectrum provides education, training and support to help create a gender sensitive and inclusive environment for all children and teens.

Our Spring Issue Has Stories to Tell!

Illustration by Nate Powell.

At Teaching Tolerance we talk a lot about making sure we really see our students—see their identities, observe their relationships with their family and community, pay attention to the signals they give us and look for ways to be responsive to their needs. The new issue of our magazine (has it hit your mailbox yet?) includes many features and strategies that focus not only on making sure our students are seen but also heard. We’ve dubbed it “the storytelling issue,” and we can’t wait to hear about the narratives, dialog and creative adventures it inspires in classrooms this spring!

Readers will be able to tell that this issue is a little different by looking at the cover. Instead of previewing a “cover story,” the illustration is a montage of many of the characters and personalities featured inside. Think of it as a treasure hunt: Why is Captain America wearing a turban? Who is the little girl in the princess costume? Is that John Lewis? The woman in the shawl looks like she’s seen some history. Who are these people, and what are their stories?

This issue offers educators multiple perspectives on why and how to encourage students to tell their own stories and learn from the stories of others. Perhaps one of the timeliest features in this issue is “Hearing the Lion’s Story,” an essay about the stress that students of color often feel due to daily aggressions and micro-aggressions aimed at their visible identities. To combat this stress, says author Howard Stevenson, we must allow room for children to engage in racial storytelling by sharing and listening to the positive and negative ways in which they and their peers experience their racial identities.

One of the issue’s most visually engaging features is “The Social Justice League,” which looks at the use of graphic novels in the classroom and how they can be used to teach about people and moments in history that rarely make it into textbooks. Another feature dives into the world of a “real-life superhero” who dons a costume and shares his own story to help young people broaden their view of what it means to be an American. The issue also includes a sobering reminder that the way educators react when students share startling, traumatic or sad stories can make an enormous difference. And, if you’re a fan of Story Corner, check out the first-ever Story Corner written in a comic-book format!

We hope you’re a subscriber and have either received your copy or will soon! If not, the Spring issue of Teaching Tolerance is available online. Give it a read today—and let the storytelling begin!

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