Prairie South to launch sexual diversity course

Column: 
October 12, 2017

sexual diversity

Jenn Chan (left) and Lori Meyer were heavily involved in the new elective course, Gender and Sexual Diversity Studies 20L, which is to be launched in the Prairie South School Division. 

MOOSE JAW–At the very minimum, officials at Prairie South School Division are embarking on a ground-breaking new initiative. The division is offering a new elective course, Gender and Sexual Diversity Studies 20L, that will be the first of its kind in the province (and as far as anyone knows, it could be the first of its kind in the country).

As a locally developed course, it has been a year in the making. Plans are for it to be offered in the second semester to students in grades 10, 11 and 12 who wish to enrol, and it will be offered as an elective credit for graduation.

Since its origins, the school board passed a motion to adopt the Respect for Human Diversity policy. It also gained the blessing of the Ministry of Education in July as part of its commitment to ensuring schools are safe and provide inclusive environments where student success is a priority, and everyone feels included, protected and respected.

Lori Meyer, superintendent of learning for Prairie South, has been one of those who helped develop the policy with the input of various community groups, the Board of Education, school community councils and not the least of which, parents and students. There was also extensive consultation with Moose Jaw Pride.

Another person who has been closely involved in the development of the course is Learning Consultant Jenn Chan, who said that in talking to students in the Gay Straight Alliance, the feeling was that there was a strong need for education around diversity in today’s schools.

As Meyer said, “this makes a clear statement about what Prairie South believes about the value of every human being. It was important to ensure that our students felt safe, and that they had something to back them up as far as expressing their gender and sexual diversity.”

She added that in offering this course, it is ideally meant for all students as a way to help the important alliances that all students need. 

“The thing we’re really hoping for through this transition is that it has relevance and it is attractive for every student. In writing it, we were looking to make it for everyone. Even though it was definitely a dance at times, we wanted to be proactive. We had great support from parents, teachers and the community,” Meyer said.

Chan explained, “we had some foundational ideas we tried to build the course around, and we did a lot of research on the subject. Right from the start we were committed to it being inclusive and stressed the importance of building allies. Because even though many people out there don’t necessarily understand the issues, the students embrace this and so we’re excited to see how it will evolve.

“From conversations I’ve had, students are excited about this and we would like to see where it can go. Students are going to be the key because they will be the allies who support their peers, and this has got to be about the students.”Student safety is one of the main themes identified, along with school culture, student physical and emotional health, student engagement and academic success, and diversity and equity.

Another aim of this program is to improve retention rates of students in the gender and sexual diversity community by reducing stigma within the school and community.

Foreshadowing the course, Chan said it is intended to help people make informed decisions and fully understand the human rights component while being agents for change. She also noted the importance of having listened to the personal narratives, including those of the First Nations and Métis community. Ultimately, she said the aim is to work with the community to advocate for the values espoused in the course.

“Education is the most important tool we have, and it can make a difference. This is part of society and it’s not going away. So it’s important for our students as well as for society to build greater understanding.”

Meyer agreed that education is the only way to include other perspectives in the conversation. She hastened to add that the course is being presented not just as an add-on for teachers, but will be its own entity and slotted into the timetable.

“We started from scratch with this and it’s been a fun process. We pushed each other’s boundaries and hopefully the same will happen in schools. I know from my involvement, my understanding of the issues has broadened considerably. Again, we hope that it will be replicated by students and teachers.”

Chan concurred that this has been a learning experience for her as well. “I consider myself open and accepting. I want to be an advocate for all students and I feel like a cheerleader, at least at the surface level. I came out of this learning a lot, and I’m excited to see what the future will bring.”