ALAMEDA -- The Alameda Unified School District, in its efforts to decrease bullying and promote acceptance, actively supported October as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Questioning) History Month.
SB48, the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act, approved by the state Legislature in July 2011, amends the education code to require schools to integrate factual information about social movements, current events and histories of the disabled and LGBTQ communities into existing social studies lessons.
In response to SB48, the AUSD worked with educators Gene Kahane and Anne Faria-Poynter to formulate lesson plans around the topic. Posted on the district's website, the lessons can be modified to work with a variety of age groups.
The district also created an LGBTQ Round Table (http://www.alameda.k12.ca.us/LGBTQ). Members of the Round Table have been out in the community informing various groups and raising awareness.
"Our hope is that even as the months change, teachers will still reach for the tools and feel empowered to have a discussion whenever the opportunity might present itself. The work forward is being developed to align with Common Core state standards," said Sean Cahill, a round table co-chair.
Alexis Ogdie, who teaches U.S. government and economics courses at the Advanced Placement and College Preparatory levels at Encinal High School, enthusiastically adopted the lesson plans for his classes.
"It's very easy to incorporate the topics into my government classes," said the young father. "We already talk about gay marriage, gay rights and Harvey Milk in the context of public policy, the federal court system and the debate over societal values."
A tragic event during Ogdie's second year of teaching at American High School in Burlingame led him to double his efforts against bullying, oppression and homophobia.
"A student was bullied so significantly that he committed suicide by stepping in front of a Caltrain railroad car," he recalled. "This set off a series of suicides around the Bay Area. I believe there were six total by the end of the semester."
The incident had Ogdie vowing to take a leadership role in the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) of whatever school he found himself in. Three years ago, he found himself at Encinal High School, where he had been a substitute teacher while completing his master's degree in education at Stanford University.
"We have worked very hard over the last two-and-one-half years to push our anti-bullying campaign, stand up against homophobic slurs and create awareness at Encinal," said Ogdie, who is head of the GSA at the school and also a member of the Harvey Milk Day Committee in Alameda. "I get mostly positive reactions from students, who are much more open to gay rights than older generations."
In an effort to have his students understand both sides, Ogdie structures "academic controversies" in which students research and discuss U.S. Supreme Court cases and investigate the ideological positions of the competing parties.
"We also run open forums where the students teach the class for a day. They select a topic, create a presentation on the facts and the various opposing sides, and then create an activity for the kids to participate in," he explained. "Gay marriage and gay rights in general are some of the most popular topics."
Ogdie believes that the lesson plans on LGBTQ issues will help raise awareness and improve the safety of all students.
"Absenteeism and suicide are all linked to bullying, and homophobia is a leading cause of bullying nationwide," he said. "Regardless of any individual's personal beliefs, no student should be made to feel so badly about him- or herself or so threatened that they commit suicide or drop out of school."
Ogdie said Encinal High School is an inclusive place where tolerance and respect are stressed by the administration, but he noted more can be done.
"Students have told me that they feel more secure when they see their teachers participating in activities for LGBTQ, Black History Month or Women's History Month," Ogdie said. "They feel safer and better protected when they see teachers fighting to protect kids and others that are different."
While it is clear to Ogdie that more can be done nationwide, he said, "There is no place better to start than right here at home."