Expert Trainer Talks About Welcoming Schools Program

Dec 2, 2019

Credit Welcoming Schools Trailside Elementary School

Nationally, students who identify as LGBTQ are at 15 % greater risk for suicide. The data from the recent SHARP survey, Student Health and Risk Prevention, has alarmed state educators because it shows 140 % increase in suicides for children 10 to 17 years old. The Welcoming Schools teacher training program is one tool the state board of education provides to teachers concerned about the effects of bullying. 

Utah State Board of Education Equity Specialist and expert trainer Holly Bell says they are mandated to provide safe, inclusive school environments for all students. She provided Trailside Elementary teachers with the Welcoming Schools anti-bullying training in August which sparked ridicule from a group of school district residents opposed to the program.

Part of the controversy that I've heard is that some of the modules in the welcoming schools program teach about inclusiveness of LGBTQ plus students. So, and this is an evidence-based program. There is data supporting its effectiveness and Trailside did their research and this is what they decided, and they approached me to do it.”

Trailside teachers requested the Welcoming Schools training module on embracing family diversity. They have additional training planned for early in 2020 that deals with biased based bully prevention. The teacher training helps educators address bullying that targets LGBTQ students and families.

“And so, LGBTQ students are dying by suicide at higher rates. The CDC reports, we had a 141% increase in suicide for our students ages 10 to 17. They came out with this report, I believe, two years ago and 15% of those students were what they called sexual minorities and so nationally there's an increase, a greater risk for LGBTQ students.”

Bell says it’s important to remind people the Welcoming Schools program is not used as student training or curriculum.  The Human Rights Campaign developed the educational program to help teachers address bullying.

“They have the non-profit branch that provides education and training and then they have their advocacy program and I think that that's where some people seem to have concern is that they do some advocacy for LGBTQ people.”

The Welcoming Schools training gives teachers tools to talk about families in ways that make all children feel connected. Bell says they look at all types of families.

“We have students who live with their grandparents. We have multiracial families. We have parents who have disabilities. We have same gender parent families. We have mixed race families. We've got all of these different families in our schools and they're not always reflected in our conversations and students want to feel reflected in their school communities.”

Bell says they try to be respectful of family values, but their primary role is to keep children safe. Bullying can be fierce in the elementary years and she says the micro aggressions build over time. She says the data shows kids as young as 10 are at increased risk of suicide.

“I'm glad conversations are happening and that this is being brought out in the open and you're going to have voices on both sides and it's just the way it is. I hope that something positive comes out of this. They’re in the middle of these adult conversations and that's where our focus needs to be is on them and what is keeping them safe in our schools because they walk in the door, we accept them for whoever they are."

Human Rights Campaign Senior Director Ellen Kahn is scheduled to talk to KPCW during Thursday’s Local News Hour. She provides national leadership and expertise in public education and advocacy efforts on behalf of LGBTQ youth and families.  She oversees projects that promote fair and inclusive policies and practices which includes the Welcoming Schools program. 

SHARP survey results for Summit County:

https://dsamh.utah.gov/pdf/sharp/2019/Summit%20County.pdf

Sharp survey results for Wasatch County:

https://dsamh.utah.gov/pdf/sharp/2019/Wasatch%20County.pdf