Helping Students Live Openly and Safely in Washington Schools

Alex* is a middle school student in Federal Way, Washington. Full of energy, he has an active imagination and thinks about what life would be like if it were similar to his favorite video games or fantasy novels.

Like many young people, Alex needs encouragement and guidance to thrive in school. Though he lacks such support at home, he is able to find that affirmation from his mentor, Robert.

Robert works with youth as part of Communities In Schools of Federal Way (CIS-FW). CIS-FW is an affiliate of a national organization that works with public schools to provide a range of resources and services to support student achievement.

Communities In Schools not only provides meaningful mentoring and tutoring, it also serves as a bridge between students’ families and local services including food and clothing banks, and housing and transportation assistance.

According to Tracy Oster, CIS-FW Executive Director, the organization’s methods are different from many other programs with similar goals. CIS-FW approaches each student uniquely and helps address students’ needs through tailored strategies to ensure that they graduate.

In Alex’s school, CIS-FW heard many students voice the need for a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) to create a safe and supportive learning environment for LGBTQ students. With a grant from Pride Foundation, CIS-FW helped Alex’s middle school establish its first GSA in response to the students’ needs.

For Alex, the support from CIS-FW toward the creation of the GSA could not have come at a better time.

During one of Alex’s mentoring sessions, he revealed to Robert that he had a crush on a boy. Nervous about what that would mean for his acceptance and ability to fit in, Alex felt he couldn’t tell anyone else. He began skipping school, fearful that someone would find out about his crush and harass him.

One day, after returning to school, Alex was surprised when an assembly was being held to celebrate diversity and the power of peer support.

The assembly was organized by the new GSA.

The next day, with the help of Robert, Alex wrote a letter to tell his friends that he is gay. The message of the assembly gave Alex the assurance he needed to feel safe to talk about his sexuality. His friends and peers greeted the news with support and unconditional acceptance.

Since coming out at school, Alex’s attendance and grades have both improved and he attends GSA meetings regularly. Through the support of CIS-FW and his mentor Robert, Alex is able to be his authentic self, every day—and now he is hopeful for what each school day will bring.

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