This summer, organizers of the Foothills Rural GSA Network were awarded the Alberta Teachers’ Association Local Diversity, Equity and Human Rights Award for their work collaborating among students from GSA clubs in multiple rural schools.
“The Local Diversity, Equity and Human Rights (DEHR) Award went to Foothills Local No. 16 for its program SAGA Youth United 2K16. Through this program, the local created an opportunity for gay–straight alliances (GSAs) and GSA students from different schools in the division to connect and share ideas, build friendships and have safe spaces to have fun. Each GSA had the opportunity to host and plan a gathering for other junior and senior high GSAs in the division.
Student feedback suggested the local was successful in making students feel supported and less isolated.
“Being in a small school, it can be quite isolating to be LGBTQ. Getting together has helped me to not feel so alone,” stated one student in a feedback comment.
“It has impacted me a great deal because I’ve learned a lot and I felt incredibly welcomed,” stated another student.
Thanks to the support of the GSA network, the local currently has five high schools, three junior highs and one elementary school with a GSA.”
–ATA News article August 29th, 2017.
We reached out to the teachers and asked if they would share a bit about themselves and tips for other teachers who are thinking of doing the same rural collaborations! Together they have shared the following:
1. What is your name, pronouns, position at your school, and name of your school?
My name is Jamie Anderson and my pronouns are he/him/his.
I teach at Westmount School in Okotoks which is a K-9 school.
My name is Paulette Morck and pronouns are she/her/hers.
My role is Guidance Counsellor at Highwood High School
2. What is the name of your student GSA and what kinds of activities do you do?
The Foothills Rural GSA Network is referred to as SAGA Youth United. Our groups regularly engage in a number of different activities, including movie nights, activism by creating educational posters, organizing a Day of Silence event, advocating for a new dress code, planning and participating in fun events like glow-in-the-dark dodgeball, guest speaker seminars, crafting, and hosting a year end queer dance party.
3. How has bringing together students from other schools impacted the students in your GSA? In what way do the GSAs collaborate?
The opportunity to connect with other LGBTQ+ students that are also navigating the challenges of living in a rural community has been incredibly positive for our students. There are so many isolating factors that youth experience when they’re in small communities and small schools and many youth struggle with feeling like they are the only LGBTQ+ person in their school or town. Providing youth with access to safer spaces where they can be surrounded by LGBTQ+ peers and feel belonging in a broader community is so very important.
4. What kinds of community supports does your GSA have?
We do have parents that are supportive of the GSAs in schools and SAGA Youth United has a number of community connections as well. Our group has participated in events run by the Calgary GSA Network and GSA teachers are able to access support from that group. Further to that, we have connected with a community-run GSA in Okotoks and look forward to building a relationship with that group in the future. The Foothills Local ATA is supportive of SAGA Youth United and provides funding to the GSA Network through the Diversity, Equity, and Human Rights Committee of the local. The DEHR Committee receives grant support from the Alberta Teachers’ Association and these funds have been absolutely crucial in supporting our initiatives, particularly when it comes to funding transportation to bring these rural students from multiple communities together.
5. Do you have any tips for teachers in rural areas who are looking to make connections with GSAs in other schools?
A starting point for rural teachers might be to connect with their ATA Local and see if there is a Diversity, Equity, and Human Rights Committee that can provide support. The Local itself may be able to provide connections to other area teachers that are interested in GSAs. The Alberta GSA Coordinator (Lauren) and Calgary area GSA Coordinator (Hilary) are also excellent resources as they provide support to a lot of rural communities and can connect teachers with other people that are doing similar work in their area.
Thank you Jamie and Paulette as well as your GSA students for doing such amazing work to bring together LGBTQ2S+ resources in rural schools. Your work towards safer spaces for students of all gender identities, expressions, and sexual orientations is very much appreciated!
Check out another article featuring the Foothills Rural GSA Network award published by the Okotoks Western Wheel News site: Local ATA Awarded For Celebrating Diversity