During the Nov. 1, 2021, Area-Wide Professional Learning Day, Char-Em staff prepared a special video to share with regional educators demonstrating their impact on students and families. Each of the speakers represented one of the five tenets of the Whole Child philosophy: Safe, Healthy, Engaged, Challenged, and Supported. Parts of the speakers’ stories were compiled for the video.
This is the full story provided by Rebeca and her child Augustin, representing the Safe tenet.
My name is Rebeca, and my child has attended Concord Academy in Petoskey for the past two years. I want to start by saying that this is their story – I am their messenger. They give their full and enthusiastic consent for me to share, because they know that one person’s story can make a difference.
For the first four years of their school life, I homeschooled Augustin. As a family, we participated in many activities that provided important social connections. We never felt like they were missing out on being with peers as we jumped from Blissfest concerts to city council meetings to Festival on the Bay. As a family, we have never lacked social interaction.
About two years ago, Augustin expressed to me that they were interested in seeing what a school experience would be like. They had been participating in Code Club at the Petoskey District Library, and they started to have more interest in spending time with kids their age. Around that same time I was invited to participate in a family engagement night at Concord Academy during parent-teacher conferences. The school had invited community organizations, nonprofits, recruiters, colleges and others to set up booths to share information. In my role at the United Way as Community Engagement Director at the time, I felt it would be a great opportunity.
While I was there, I observed as the principal, Kali McNamara, welcomed each student and family into the auditorium by name with a cheerful greeting, then directed them to personal resources she knew would impact each one. My heart started to become full of hope that this might be a place where Augustin would feel seen and be safe.
After the event, I asked school staff if they had experience with students who were gender non-conforming and non-binary. They explained that they have. Not only had they supported LGBTQ+ youth through their time at Concord, but they also nurtured a number of students who had transitioned from the gender assigned at birth to their true gender identity. That made me feel extremely comfortable and checked another box that this might be the place for Augustin to test the waters of public school.
Things have not been easy for Augustin. Several years ago, they began to find the terms to articulate their identity as non-binary. Finding their place in a small, rural town, as a child beginning to question their assigned gender is a tough place. I wanted to protect them as much as I could, but I also wanted to give Augustin a say in their own future and opportunities.
So, Augustin started at Concord in January 2020. And we all know what came next – in March of that year, the world shut down and Augustin was once again back home with me.
When the 2020-21 school year began, I was more than excited to hear Augustin say that they wanted to go back to Concord! The environment the school has created has made students feel safe and protected. Augustin even experienced enough growth in confidence to advocate for a gender-neutral restroom option for students. I’ll never forget the day. Kali walked out of the school with Augustin and I thought, “Uh oh, what happened.” Instead, she came up to me and said, “I just want to let you know that I am so proud of Augustin for advocating for themselves today.”
The following Monday morning, she told me she had spent all weekend thinking about how to put a gender-neutral bathroom into the school. The fact that it was even on her mind made me think, “Yes, we have found the right place.”
During that Monday morning call, I took another step for students like Augustin and introduced the training called “A Silent Crisis” to Kali, and then to professional learning leaders at Char-Em ISD. A Silent Crisis is a program approved by the Michigan Department of Education that trains educators in how to create safe schools for sexual minority youth. Scott Koziol and Pam Ciganick at Char-Em welcomed the idea of working this training into annual professional development sessions and into the work being done around the Whole Child. The seeds have now been planted and in the future, I know they will take root and grow, and provide students safe opportunities to be true to themselves.