This June, Communities In Schools of Chicago celebrates PRIDE, a time for us as an organization to recognize and rededicate ourselves to support and allyship of the LGBTQA+ community. We believe that every student, regardless of race, gender, ability, zip code, or socioeconomic background, has what they need to realize their full potential — in school and beyond. And both our CIS of Chicago Intensive Team and our Partnership Team work to ensure that all students in the school communities we serve feel valued, respected, and supported so that they can succeed in school and life.
Just this month, our Partnership Team shared resources, including this toolkit from Advocates for Youth, with school partners as a way to support them in amplifying the voices and experiences of LGBTQA+ youth. And our Intensive Team members served as allies for their students in the school building. Below, we chatted with one of our Senior Student Supports Managers, Jessica Juarez, about her work creating a PRIDE group at Chávez Elementary in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood.
KR: This is the first year that PRIDE group has been at Chávez. How did the group begin?
JJ: This group started up after I had a conversation with a student who mentioned interest in creating a group at Chávez, rather than looking for outside resources and partners. The student said that they wanted to share a safe space with other students to be themselves.
KR: What was your process for forming the group?
JJ: After the student shared the idea with me, I reached out to Chávez administration, researched the Genders & Sexualities Alliance (GSA) manual, attended Chicago Public Schools trainings, and talked with our school counselor, as well as other GSA groups in the district to learn about how they began a PRIDE group. Then, I worked with my CIS of Chicago intern, Theressa, to advertise the group through a video PSA, which was our principal’s idea, to invite all Chávez middle school students. Teachers played the video in the morning announcements and then showed students how they could sign up.
Within a few weeks, we got lots of interest from students! So we created a permission slip and set a date for a first session. In the meantime, Theressa and I created an eight-week lesson plan, a logo (Theressa’s handiwork), and collected permission slips.
KR: What are some topics that were covered?
JJ: During the first session, we created group guidelines and discussed inclusivity and pronoun use, and then we learned LGBTQA+ history and shared hope for the future. We honored our stories and had conversations about safety, identity, prejudice, microaggressions, and intersectionality. We also talked about creating a support network and what it means to be an ally. During the final week, we celebrated students for living out their truth and being present, open, and engaged in the group.
KR: How have you been able to create a safe space for students, even during remote learning?
JJ: We created safety by creating guidelines. This included holding each other accountable, by asking for each other’s pronouns, and by finding a confidential space from which to meet (or wearing headphones and using the chat function if a confidential space wasn’t available). We also created safety by meeting consistently and by treating each other with respect.
KR: What are some things that students gained from participating?
JJ: Students gained a safe, non-judgmental, and nurturing place where they can feel free to share their experiences, learn about resources in their school and off campus, connect with others like them, and build peer support. Students also were also able to create community by participating in activities like movie night, sharing circles, and arts & crafts.
KR: Why do you think it’s important to offer PRIDE group at your school?
JJ: I believe that it is important to have PRIDE at Chávez because it is essential for students to feel welcomed, safe, and free to be their authentic selves at school. As the GSA Advisor Handbook says, “We will continue striving to create belonging, support leadership, and build a long-lasting community in and outside of schools.” I’m looking forward to continuing this group next year — and in years to come — so that students can continue to feel free to be their authentic selves at school and eventually be able to lead the group themselves!
Thanks to the work of our CIS of Chicago team — and the initiative of our students — PRIDE groups like the one at Chávez are being formed at other Intensive Partner schools within the district. Through groups like these, students are able be true to themselves within their school communities. But allyship is not only the responsibility of our Student Supports Managers or students who belong to PRIDE group. It is the role of all adults in the school building.
According to the GSA Advisor Handbook, “The most successful GSAs see involvement from a range of other adults from the school and community. This includes peer teachers who may support GSAs through lending their classrooms for meetings, fundraising, or spreading the word; principals and administrators who guarantee the longevity of GSAs and take time to listen to LGBTQ+ youth demands; parents and caregivers who may get involved in planning or chaperoning events; and community partners who support GSA clubs with education, awareness raising, and activism.” Let us all honor this calling to serve as strong allies for our students, today and every day.
For more information on the benefits of PRIDE groups, check out this Edutopia article, which cites that GSAs in the middle school setting not only help the social and emotional health of all students. They also improve school climate. Or take a look at the GSA Advisor Handbook, which shares more information on racial and gender justice and resources for starting a GSA club.