July 17, 2020 at 10:41 am EDT | by Tara Cheston
DCPS LGBTQ+ programming: Finding ways to connect in a pandemic
inclusive curricula, Frederick County School Board, transgender students, gay news, Washington Blade

Despite technology integrations in our classrooms and the more wide-scale availability of educational tech platforms, few school districts were logistically prepared for the pandemic fallout. DC Public Schools—despite being more prepared than many other districts and intentionally working to close educational gaps—certainly felt the impacts of digital inequity and the challenges that distance learning exposed.

Still, we feel confident that we were able to quickly and efficiently adapt to the new educational world into which the pandemic forced us and we are currently in the midst of robust planning for a safe and successful start to the next school year.

The shift to distance learning and operating in a wholly virtual world laid bare some program delivery weaknesses for the DCPS LGBTQ and Sexual Health Program. Specifically, pre-COVID-19, we had relied very strongly on an engagement model that required us to travel to schools to provide paper-based resources, we hosted in-person parent/caregiver engagement sessions, and our suite of training opportunities were all facilitated in-person. While we did source and offer many electronic resources, we found the need to quickly digitize and market our materials to the wider DCPS communities. LGBTQ+ visibility and raising awareness remained our top priorities.

Despite the abrupt and total dismantling of our daily routines, personal connections, and business operations, the crisis provided many opportunities to reassess community engagement and to provide programming in more innovative, cutting-edge ways. We do not operate in a vacuum in our LGBTQ+ visibility and advocacy work; rather, we invite the larger DC LGBTQ+ community to participate in our programming and opportunities in order to build a larger and more cohesive community of support.

DCPS & StoryCorps Project. We have unveiled a project aimed at collecting coming out stories that we can make available to our DCPS community. We feel that through the collection of these stories, we will be able to create a living history of our DC LGBTQ+ community that our students can look to for inspiration. We would love for Washington Blade readers to consider taking part in this project.

Parent/Caregiver Coffee Chats. We host a monthly parent-caregiver coffee chat via Zoom. This is an opportunity for caregivers of LGBTQ+ young people across D.C., Maryland, and Virginia to come together to build community and share resources. We don’t have a set agenda for these meetings. Instead, we create the space for conversation to form organically. From these conversations, the DCPS LGBTQ and Sexual Health Program staff is able to determine ways to better support our school communities.

DCPS History Project. We have unveiled a new online project that captures both D.C. and national LGBTQ+ history. It is our hope that our young people can develop a deeper connection to and appreciation of their place in the LGBTQ+ historical timeline. This resource, and many others, can be found on our program website: dcleadingwithpride.com.

Pride in DCPS Podcast. We realize that for some folks, going online to access LGBTQ+ resources in a home that is not affirming can be dangerous or nearly impossible. Additionally, we strive to develop partnerships with community-based and national LGBTQ-serving organizations, but we can’t necessarily send our students or other stakeholders to the door of these organizations to request information. To that end, we have developed our podcast series, which explores the life, advocacy, and contributions of local LGBTQ+ folks. The podcast is hosted on Buzzsprout, and we post new episodes on our DCPS LGBTQ Facebook and Instagram pages.

While we are physically distanced, and we know that our schools will look and feel very different in the coming school year, the DCPS LGBTQ and Sexual Health Program remains committed to developing creative and effective ways of improving LGBTQ+ advocacy, awareness, and visibility in the virtual spaces that we inhabit. We hope that you’ll join us.
For access to any of the resources listed above, please contact Tara Cheston at Tara.Cheston@k12.dc.gov.

Tara Cheston is LGBTQ and Sexual Health Program Specialist for DC Public Schools.

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