Anthony Melia is the Schools and Colleges Officer at LGBT+ education charity Just Like Us. Just Like Us works with schools and colleges across the UK to make the lives of LGBT+ young people and their allies as awesome as possible. They do this through various programmes including School Diversity Week (June 22 – 26) which they have adapted for home learning this year.
To say that the last few months have been challenging is an understatement. Whether it be within our personal, professional or educational lives, how we engage with one another has either been put on hold or gone virtual. For Just Like Us, a LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans) charity within the education sector, it has completely upended how we work.
As an organisation that supports schools and colleges across the UK to empower LGBT+ young people and their allies, the difficulties are obvious. With the majority of pupils and educators working from home, what we could offer them changed significantly. We could no longer provide our face to face talks and workshops, support in-school Pride Groups and had to consider if our annual School Diversity Week could even take place.
LGBT+ young people face the added pressure during lockdown of sometimes having to isolate with parents or guardians who may not know their sexuality or gender identity – or, even worse, might not accept them for who they are. As research by Stonewall and the LGBT+ Foundation shows, LGBT+ people face tougher challenges in regards to their mental health and wellbeing. As a community, most of our dedicated spaces are closed and our relationships are being conducted over Zoom or Google Meets, with the very real risk many young LGBT+ people begin to feel isolated.
With this in mind, we began to plan School Diversity Week: Home Edition to help provide LGBT+ pupils and their educators the chance to feel a part of the wider community – even when at home. Usually, School Diversity Week is an event where primary and secondary schools as well as further education colleges use our free toolkit to celebrate LGBT+ equality in the classroom; last year, schools representing 1.4 million young people signed up to take part.
This year, we were faced with two questions – what changes do we have to make to the week? And, what place does this event have at this moment of time?
Firstly, we had to adapt lessons and activities made to be delivered in person to ones which could be done by pupils at home; this meant that we had to slim down to those that worked well via remote learning. For us, like many schools and colleges, the move to a virtual setup was unexpected and untested. As an organisation we pride ourselves on being ‘present’; our volunteers speak directly to young people and our resources are delivered in full classrooms. Discovering unique and rewarding ways to engage with our network across the UK was a learning experience that has helped shape the direction of Just Like Us going forward,
Secondly, we did consider if educators would even be able to run activities, amongst all upheaval. Schools and colleges, as well as the communities they serve, are not only suffering due to closures but also because of the personal impact of COVID-19 on staff, students and their loved ones. It has been a devastating time and we did consider what School Diversity Week could offer. In the end, we decided that it gives school communities across the country a chance to unite in a celebration of equality, diversity and inclusion; to underline that the bonds of community endure even through the toughest times.
The Home Edition, therefore, builds on our regular toolkit in three exciting ways:
- Our resources have been adapted for home learning platforms, with something for every day of the week, ordered by Key Stage. KS1 pupils can hear the story of Prince Henry and make the laws in a brand new kingdom while the story of Anne Lister and coding comes to life at KS2. At KS3-4, they can create ‘blackout poetry’ on the theme of diversity or learn key statistics about being LGBT+ while sharpening their mental arithmetic in our dedicated English and Maths lessons.
- Do your pupils want to be a filmmaker, playwright, scientist, activist, or historian? We’ve assembled a host of experts to lead thirty-minute masterclasses with contributions from the likes of Lady Phyll, Travis Alabanza and Dr Ranj. These masterclasses aim to provide an unique educational opportunity to learn about exciting topics from the experts for both primary and secondary aged pupils – broadcast from our Facebook page directly into their homes.
- We want every young person to feel connected to the wider community which is why we’re running Rainbow Friday. We’re planning on making a collage of pupils and educators dressed in a colour of the Progress Flag to show that even though we can’t be together, we’ll still join as one to celebrate diversity.
After the release of the Home Edition, the feedback has confirmed to me that an event which focuses on positivity, wellbeing and community is needed more than ever. As one school in Rotherham emailed; “this event will be just what everyone needs to raise spirits and emphasise the critically important message of equality for all, particularly given current world news stories”.
With opportunities for both home learning and access to our regular toolkit for educators still in the classroom, you can sign up for School Diversity Week: Home Edition for free right now.