Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Resource: Small Town & Rural LGBT Students

The Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), recently released a report that looked at the experiences of LGBT students in small town or rural schools.  In their 2011 School Climate Survey, GLSEN found that for LGBT students across the country, overall levels of harassment are beginning to decline, while support and resources in schools for these students is on the increase (source:  However, as you read these reports every two years, you wonder how the experiences for students differ based on geographical location or locale.  Their latest report, Strengths and Silences, gives us this snapshot, with a focus on those students who live in smaller, more isolated communities.  Some key findings:

  • 87% of rural LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 45% reported being physically harassed and 22% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.  
  • 68% of rural LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 31% reported being physically harassed and 16% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.  
  • Rural LGBT students who experienced higher levels of victimization were less likely to plan to attend college than students who experienced lower levels of victimization (85% vs 93%).  
  • 27% of rural students reported having a GSA at school, compared to 55% of suburban students and 53% of urban students. But when there was a GSA at school, rural students were more likely to attend than urban and suburban students.  
  • Rural LGBT students reported feeling less safe than students in suburban and urban areas and rural students living in the South and Midwest were more likely to feel unsafe based on sexual orientation than were students in rural areas of the Northeast or West.  
  • Rural LGBT students were more likely to feel unsafe at school due to their sexual orientation (71% vs. 62% of suburban and 58% of urban school students) and gender expression (49% of rural students vs. 42% of suburban and 42% of urban students).  
  • 36% of rural LGBT students had missed class and/or a day of school in the past month due to feeling unsafe, compared to 30% of suburban LGBT students and 30% of urban LGBT students. (source:
Overall, our LGBT students in rural and small communities need additional supports and resources.  One of the more interesting findings of this report, however, is with regards to school counselors.  52% of rural students felt that they would be comfortable talking to a school counselor about LGBT issues, higher than any other school personnel, including teachers, administrators, and other support staff.  In fact, even in suburban and urban districts, students felt that school counselors were the go-to people with regards to conversations about LGBT issues.  However, as the report discusses, students in reality are bringing up LGBT topics most with teachers, not with counselors (source:  

This information, I believe, tells us two things.  First, that we as school counselors need to be trained in working with LGBT students and families:  What Is Your LGBT IQ?  LGBT students across the board feel that we are the people they are most able to seek out to talk about these issues.  If you are a counselor at a small or rural school, seek out trainings at local, state, or national conventions.  Many school counseling conferences now feature sessions on working with LGBT students and families.  You can also look at webinars on LGBT topics sponsored both by ASCA as well as GLSEN.  Secondly, we need to consider ways to let students know that we are a safe-space for them to have these conversations.  This can be done by sponsoring or making a visit to your school's Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) or by posting a Safe-Space sticker somewhere in your office.  As the data in this report tells us, this is an issue of academic performance, post-secondary outcomes, school safety, and attendance.  By addressing this issue, you are helping to remove barriers to academic success for all students.

Read the full report here or view the webinar.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Reflection: Crisis

As we all have been, I have been deeply saddened and shocked by the events of Friday morning.  As school counselors, we all tend to be fairly empathetic, and so my thoughts have constantly been turned to the parents of those children who have been lost, the families of those school staff members who died, and to the larger community of Newtown who will need support long after the media trucks and national focus have left as the depths of grief, loss, and trauma begin to manifest themselves in the months to come.

Many years ago, when I was still teaching, I was at a school where, for the first time, I had to go through a lockdown drill with my students.  In going through the procedures of covering my window and trying to keep 30 energetic 7th graders quiet as security came by to check that our door was locked, the thought flashed through my head, "What if this was real?"  Instinctually, I immediately knew that I would put the kids into the instrument storage closet (I taught this choir class in the band room) and would put myself outside if need be to protect those kids.  This was not a question I wrestled with, this was not something where I thought about all the possible consequences.  I knew what I would have to do in the breath of an instant.

Perhaps for this reason, I keep thinking the most about the principal and school psychologist who attempted to stop the gunman as well as the 1st grade teacher who hid her students and gave her own life to protect them.  When you go into education as a career, you do not necessarily think that you may have to give your life as part of your profession.  Yet, that is what the six adults who died on Friday did.  I think all of us who work in schools know that when it comes to the safety of our students, dare I say, "our kids", that chances are pretty high that we would do the same.  Our educational professionals have taken quite a few hits in the public arena in the last decade.  However, the vast, vast, vast majority of adults in schools that I have met in the last thirteen years are highly committed individuals who work excessively long hours, nights, and weekends, often making difficult choices between their own work and personal lives.  They are in education because they love kids, they love watching kids learn, and they love helping to facilitate that process.  They would do anything for their students, and I think we should take a moment to really acknowledge just what that could mean.

I have been inspired in the last several days by the school counseling community and their quick response with regards to sharing resources so that we all have support in working with our students, families, and school communities through this time.  The mother of all school counselor bloggers, Danielle Schultz, began to collect resources at School Counselor Blog and share them with her followers.  I am inspired by this, and believe that all of us who are school counseling bloggers have a responsibility, as collectors and sharers of information, to have these resources at hand to share with our followers whenever they are needed.  As such, I have created a page on my blog dedicated to crisis resources, and would love if other bloggers did the same, so that no matter where a school counseling professional turns, they find information to support them in their work talking to students, staff, and families in these difficult moments.  In this way, as school counselors we can continue to be prepared to lead in times of great challenge.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Transgender Kids: Inspiration and Advocacy

I am a little obsessed with NPR.  I listen to it in the car on the way to work, on the way home from work, and subscribe to multiple podcasts.  It is my secret dream to someday do something worthy of being interviewed on Fresh Air by Terry Gross.  However, my favorite hour of radio is Tell Me More, a program that seeks to explore modern life, issues, and news from a multi-cultural perspective, and multi-cultural from the broadest possible lens.  Not coincidentally, it is also my secret dream to do something worthy of being interviewed by Michel Martin, the host.  So many secret dreams, so little time.

I was driving to a meeting on Monday at just the time that Michel Martin was doing an interview that pulled me in from the moment it started.  Andy Marra is a transgender woman who was adopted by an American family from South Korea.  She recently wrote a blog entry at the Huffington Post about her experience of finding and coming out to her birth mother in Korea.  As she was going through the coming out process, she chose to delay her full transition (hormones, surgery) until she found her birth mother:

"I could never find the will to move forward with my transition -- taking hormones or surgery -- despite the opportunity to do so. And my hesitation was largely due to my unknown family living far away in Korea.  Like me, more than 200,000 Korean babies and children have been sent overseas. But less than 3 percent of us are able to find our families. The odds were clearly not in my favor. But what if I did find my family after all these years? And how would they handle meeting a young woman instead of a baby boy who should have grown into manhood? I was left with few ideas to reconcile my concerns." (source:
As she continues with her story, she finds her mother literally in the span of a few hours, and the two are reunited.  Like so many kids who are contemplating the coming-out process, she is nervous to share her gender-identity with her birth mother, a woman she has just met.  However, the turn in this story is that it is her birth mother who first broaches the subject.  She instinctually knows that there is something weighing Andy down, and after some questioning, Andy tells her that she is a transgender woman.  Her birth mother responds:

"'Mommy knew,' she said calmly through my friend, who looked just as dumbfounded as I was by her response. 'I was waiting for you to tell me'...'Hyun-gi," she said, stroking my head. 'You are beautiful and precious. I thought I gave birth to a son, but it is OK. I have a daughter instead.'" (source:
It is this moment, in this highly-charged situation of a reunited birth mother and daughter, that Andy begins to find her own self-acceptance and an ability to move forward in her own life.  You can listen to the full audio interview here.

As I've written about before, finding acceptance and support is key to the well-being of our transgender students, and, right now, the deck is stacked against them:
  • More than half of all transgender students have been physically harassed (pushed or shoved) because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • More than a quarter of all transgender students have been physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Almost half of transgender students report missing at least one class in the last month and one full day of school in the last month because of concerns for their safety.
  • Transgender students who experience high-levels of harassment have an average GPA that is .5 lower than that of transgender students who experience low-levels of harassment. (source:
These students are at a higher-risk of truancy, bullying and harassment, assault, and poor academic performance.  Additionally, parent reactions to LGBT students makes a huge difference.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those students who experienced high-levels of parental rejection were:
  • Nearly six times as likely to have high-levels of depression
  • More than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide
  • More than three times as likely to have used illegal drugs
  • More than three times as likely to engage in unsafe sexual behaviors that put them at risk for sexually transmitted diseases (source:
For students who experience more acceptance from family, such as Andy, they have a support system in place regardless of their school environment.  However, for those students who are experiencing high-levels of rejection at home and are thus at higher-risk for depression, suicide, and substance use, the school environment can be make-or-break for that child.  Transgender kids in schools can be a highly emotional issue, as currently being played out in the East Aurora School District, but the data shows that this is an issue of school safety, student achievement, mental health, and even life and death.  We, as school counselors, are charged with advocating for all students, with a focus on creating an equitable and safe environment so that every child can learn.   Our transgender students fall into this category.

For resources, I would recommend taking a look at the previously mentioned CDC website, which has tips for making schools safe places for all LGBT students.  Additionally, the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight, Education Network (GLSEN) has a sample transgender policy that can serve as a conversation starter amongst your stakeholders and give you ideas about what issues need to be addressed, from bullying/harassment policy to bathrooms and locker rooms.  All of our students should have the opportunity to do well in school and have access to supports that allow them to figure out their identity for themselves, just like Andy.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Resource: Children in Poverty

The PBS documentary program, Frontline, takes time to really go in-depth and explore topics, often filming over months or even a year to get a more thorough view of an issue.  A few weeks ago, they aired a program about poverty amongst American children.  Did you know that:
  • 1 in 5, or 21.6%, of America's children were living in poverty based on Census figures
  • Federal spending on children in 2011 fell for the first time since the 1980's by $5 million 
  • 47.6% of children living with a single mother live in poverty
  • The poverty rate for White and Asian children is below the national average (21.6%), while the rate for Black children is at 38.2% and Hispanic children is at 32.3%
  • 45% of those who spent at least half of their childhood in poverty were still in poverty at age 35 (source: 2011 Census Report)
  • Only three other countries in the developed world have child poverty rates higher than that in the United States (source: 2011 OECD Report)
The documentary, Poor Kids, follows six children and their families in the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois.  Through the program, you follow their struggles with housing, food, clothing, unemployment, and depression.  Additionally, there are some themes that emerge that directly pertain to our work as school counselors:
  • Loss: In the documentary, one family has to take their young girl's dog to the pound as they can no longer afford to keep her, plus they are moving from a house into a hotel room where they can only have one pet.  Children in poverty are constantly having to say goodbye, whether it is to their home, friends in a neighborhood they are leaving, pets, or even family members.
  • Hunger:  Almost every child talks about being hungry at points in the program.  We know that children who are  hungry do not perform as well in school, thus we have a national school breakfast and lunch program.  However, those programs only go so far, and are not always able to address meals outside of school and on weekends.  Thus, while a student may be full and able to focus in school, homework to be done on the evenings and on the weekends may be more of a struggle, as children need a lot of nourishment through their growing years.  One program that is highlighted is a backpack food program where kids get food on Friday that can fit into their backpacks to take home over the weekend.
  • Educational Impact: They do not really get to this until the end, but if you have worked in a school long enough, you have probably observed this directly.  Kids in poverty are often moving around, as they are able to get into a house but are then evicted, move into a hotel, back into a house, then an apartment, etc.  Thus, they can be in one school or school district's boundaries one minute, then in another one the next.  One of the young girls in the documentary does not go to school for a few weeks, knowing that they are in a hotel for only a short time and will be moving into another housing situation, which puts them in a different school district.  Thus, kids in poverty run a higher risk of missing pieces of their education while they move around, even if it is within the same general area.  It is vitally important that you check with your school system to see what provisions have been made for students that may fall into the category of homeless.  There are Federal guidelines for homeless students that clearly define what constitutes a student as homeless as well as guidelines for specific concerns such as registrations, transportation, and looking out for the "best interests" of the students in these particular situations.
  • Educational Aspiration: Several of the kids in this documentary speak to the fact that they know, even at the young ages of 8 or 9 years old, that education is their ticket out of poverty.  They look to school and good grades as a pathway to college and a good job.  As school counselors, we are tasked with helping all of our students succeed academically and move on to a post-secondary option that is congruent with 21st century skills and careers.  This is reassurance that our children in poverty expect and deserve no less from us than any of our other students.
You can watch the documentary for yourself below:

Watch Poor Kids on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Watch Poor Kids on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Watch Poor Kids on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Watch Poor Kids on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.