Ponoka Elementary School (PES) hopes to tackle bullying issues with a new diversity club.
The intention of organizers is to have several areas of focus for students in Grades 1 to 6 with topics such as dealing with bullying, discrimination, gender identification as well as those dealing with medical issues.
During the information night Jan. 30 there were quite a few parents to hear from staff about the plan. There were some parents who showed their concern over the question of gender identification.
Grade 4 teacher Maggie Henderson spoke on the intent of the club saying her hope is it would benefit students behaviours with each other. She said the club will be held as a Friday option and a separate club.
For the former, parents will be able to opt out of the Friday option if they want.
Home Church Pastor Rob MacArthur, who also has children at PES, asked about the club. “Is this or is this not a gay/straight alliance?”
Henderson said the club has aspects of gender identification but it’s also part of a greater focus of issues. “Diversity group covers a lot of options.”
Under Bill 24: An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances, schools are not allowed to tell parents if their students are in a gay-straight alliance. There are exceptions if the child is under direct threat of harm. It’s that legislation that some parents appeared worried about.
McArthur’s concerns were related to the guest speaker of the meeting, Michael Green. He is the deputy director with the Altview Foundation, www.altview.ca — a group that aims to support and educate on the queer community — and was there to speak to questions parents had.
“I am a little bit concerned because there is a little bit of an end around here, that you’re trying to introduce something that we don’t believe is healthy for our children,” explained McArthur, adding that he feels it’s parents who are best qualified to discuss these issues.
He said questions of bullying and racism are more pressing but the question of gender identification he doesn’t feel is appropriate.
Another parent worried about what the teachers would be saying to her children. Henderson clarified that it’s not the teachers’ jobs to promote or guide children in one direction or another. She added that the diversity club will address other challenges such as racism or bullying or bullying against children with mental or physical challenges.
Positive results from inclusive programming
Speaking to Ponoka News, Green explained that he wasn’t there to push the organization’s agenda but more to clarify questions about a sensitive issue. He focusses on educating folks.
He pointed out some research has found that when schools have inclusive policies and programs, which tackle homophobia, there was an unexpected, yet positive result.
“There’s a 27 per cent reduction in their (boys’) suicide ideation,” said Green.
“The reason why, as the theory goes, is that most primary bullying about boys has to do with them tackling their manliness.”
He added that bullying typically includes the words such as gay, sissy or fag. However, when homophobic fears are addressed, that bullying becomes easy to shrug off. “It’s more of a culture that that doesn’t really matter to us.”
One fear parents had was not having control over knowing what is happening with their kids. “I think that fear is pretty respectable. Parents want to be engaged in their children’s lives.”
He said the flip side to that is kids need to feel safe before they go to their parents with these discussions. If that’s done prior to a child being ready, it may do more harm to their trust of parents and teachers who would then speak on their behalf.
Green added the organization is working on a website called www.supportiveparents.ca to help parents on those occasions that their children come out as gay.
“We believe Alberta parents would actually be supportive if they had the knowledge,” said Green. “Because no parent goes into the world with a guidebook if their parent is LGBTQ.”
He added that these issues happen in small, rural communities and large cities.
“It’s important to remember that this happens in small towns and there’s nothing that’s preventing small towns from being open and accepting as well.”