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It’s OK to be different

December 2, 2014 Jennifer Dodsworth, Evergreen Local No. 11, DEHR Chair

Evergreen local spreads message of acceptance with book boxes

“Madame! Somebody at recess called Jonathan a girl because he takes dance!”

“Madame! Can two boys get married?”

“Madame! Riley told me girls can’t wear Spider-Man sweaters because Spider-Man is for boys!”

Who knew that a Grade 2 classroom would provide such fertile ground for meaningful discussions about inclusivity? Elementary school students are naturally curious and open-minded so, more than ever, it is vital that we engage them in age-appropriate conversations about gender and sexual diversity.

A 2009 study by Egale Canada showed that, on average, LGBTQ youth first report having a sense of their gender/sexual identity around Grade 4, although some report knowing as early as Grade 1. 

With up to one in 10 people identifying somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum, in a school of 450, up to 45 students could be part of this invisible minority. In addition, more and more of our students come to us from nontraditional families. As teachers, we play a vital role in encouraging our students to see diversity as something to be celebrated — in our classrooms and in our society.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association Evergreen Local No. 11 started a Diversity, Equity and Human Rights (DEHR) committee this past year and, after chatting with our teachers, we noticed a need for additional resources to help us handle questions of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The PRISM toolkit is a wonderful resource that we have been promoting in our elementary schools, but we wanted to supplement these lessons with a collection of LGBT-friendly children’s books that provide context for the lessons, complement their objectives and act as conversation starters in the classroom.  

Thanks to a DEHR grant from the ATA, we have been able to assemble 12 diversity book boxes, one for every ­elementary school in our local. Each box contains eight books, a lesson plan for each book, French translations of the book text and a USB containing digital copies, resources and online links.

The University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services (ISMSS) also contributed “Safe Space” stickers, posters and pamphlets.

We hope to eventually add more books and resources to our diversity book boxes, and continue to work with our teachers in order to meet the changing needs of their students. Currently, each box contains the following books:

  • It’s Okay To Be Different – Todd Parr
  • 10,000 Dresses – Marcus Ewert and Rex Ray
  • King & King – Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland
  • Asha’s Mums – Rosamund Elwin, ­Michele Paulse and Dawn Lee
  • The Worst Princess – Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie
  • The Family Book – Todd Parr
  • And Tango Makes Three – Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell and Henry Cole
  • Not All Princesses Dress in Pink – Jane Yolen, Heidi E. Y. Stemple and Anne-Sophie Lanquetin

Our DEHR committee is now in the process of presenting the book boxes to the elementary schools in our local, and we are very excited to see them already in use in the classroom. On a few separate occasions, we have overheard colleagues, while skimming through one of the books, exclaim, “I have a student who needs to hear this story!” 

Alberta teachers work every day to create inclusive, respectful learning spaces for their students. We hope that the diversity book box will equip our teachers to be even more enthusiastic agents of social change.  ❚

Jennifer Dodsworth is the DEHR chair for ATA Local Evergreen No. 11.

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