NIOTBN, Schools To Address Transgender Issues

As the White House draws fire for President Trump’s controversial proposals to ban transgender individuals from the military and disallow strategic civil rights protections for transgender Americans, NIOTBN and local schools hope to help to make the classroom a safer and more welcoming place for all students.

NIOTBN’s Education Subcommittee and Normal Unit 5 school officials and students plan to meet next week for a panel discussion on transgender challenges, from school restroom designations and use to questions about Skyward, a software system specializing in K-12 school management. Subcommittee Co-Chair Camille Taylor notes individuals are entered through birth certificates, meaning student records may not reflect current individual gender identity.

That can cause discomfort and confusion for transgender students in the classroom and other school venues, said Taylor, a retired local educator. Among other issues, NIOTBN hopes to address possible ways to reconcile “permanent records” with student identifications in its meeting with Unit 5 administrators, Normal Community and Community West High School principals, and student representatives.

Education Co-Chair Mary Aplington stressed the need for “policies across districts that are very similar,” noting Bloomington District 87’s existing strides in enhancing student inclusivity.

“We need collaboration at the top level,” Aplington added.

This spring, NIOTBN shared LGBTQ advocacy materials supplied by the national Not In Our Town organization with local school with community Not In Our School (NIOS) students and faculty “point people.”

More than a dozen states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws protecting students from discrimination based on their gender identity. In an effort to encourage their protection, an April 2014 letter from the Federal Office of Civil Rights clarified that discrimination against transgender students in schools is covered by Title IX and educators in schools across the United States are accountable for ensuring the safety and inclusion of transgender students in all school-sponsored activities.

Meanwhile, at the elementary level, several Unit 5 schools reportedly are eyeing the launch of anti-bullying/anti-bigotry NIOS programs in 2017-18. NIOTBN plans to participate in an Aug. 8 Back 2 School Party for Unit 5 and District 87 students at Bloomington’s Grossinger Motors Arena. The event, from noon to 4:30 p.m., will feature free school backpack supply kits and information from various community groups.   

Families must complete school registration and provide all health requirements for their children to attend the party.

Camille: Resolutions and Resolute Action

Camille Taylor

WJBC Forum

Rather than make resolutions I don’t keep, I focus on my hopes and dreams for the New Year. Here’s my list.

I hope to increase my advocacy for things I support, as well as things I’m against. I will use a variety of information sources to learn how best to advocate such as news updates from the League of Women Voters, Organizing for Action, and Action 36. I plan to be vigilant about what our legislators at the state and national level are doing and won’t hesitate to contact them to share my thoughts whether it involves the lack of an agreement to develop a state budget or the intent of the Republicans to repeal Obamacare.

I will be closely watching the new president, hoping that he will demonstrate responsibility and respect for the position he was elected to. I will not be silent if he chooses to be the Commander and Chief via Twitter using harmful and inflammatory rhetoric like he did during the campaign, nor will I be silent about cabinet choices who have demonstrated divisiveness and harm to our country via their past policy and/or business decisions.

I hope to increase the presence of the Not In Our School efforts locally, as well as continue to work with Not In Our Town to make our community more safe and inclusive for everyone. I hope to connect more with family and friends even without the benefit of social media. I don’t want to ever lose that “personal touch” that lets people know I care about them and love them.

I hope I’m healthy and strong, so that I can continue to care for those I love. I dream that students who depend on financial aid for college and people who have basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter can be served despite the stalemate in Springfield. I hope and dream for peace in our world whether domestic or abroad.

I hope that people will take the time to look at their source for accurate news as opposed to reading ‘fake news” and then using this information to make decisions and form opinions. I hope I learn new things this year and use that knowledge to benefit others. Last, I hope that people begin to acknowledge that “words matter,” and being polite and using good old fashioned manners should not be the exception, but the rule.

NIOS Highlights School Efforts During Campus Conference

Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal-Not In Our School outlined recent efforts to create a safer, more inclusive scholastic environment during Monday's Culturally Responsive Campus Community conference at Illinois State University.

Forty-two high school and college students -- including Normal West Community High School senior Anniah Watson and Normal Community High School senior Aishwayra Shekara, as well as faculty members attended the afternoon session in ISU's Old Main Room. College participants were primarily social work and education majors; Jessica Jackson, a Normal West Project Oz specialist who has sponsored NIOS along with Normal West social studies teacher John Bierbaum, reviewed racism, homophobia, and other concerns as well as ongoing anti-bullying/anti-bigotry initiatives at West.

NIOT/NIOS presenters highlighted a number of recent activities aimed at fostering inclusivity in area schools, including:

Operation Beautiful, a website that offered NIOS students at Normal Community the inspiration to write positive messages on post it notes and put one on each student's locker for them to find when they arrived at school the next morning.

In Their Words,  NIOS students at Normal West shared negative experiences such as name calling and teacher-ignored issues and their impact via a video shared with faculty.

Basketball game fundraiser. NIOS students raised funds to support a local mental health agency by holding a staff vs students  game at Normal West. At the admission table, individuals were asked to sign a NIOT pledge card

Pledge card drives. Both high schools have conducted additional pledge card drives.

School NIOS banners designed by the NIOT Marketing Committee. School districts have purchased them for each NIOT partner schools. In addition, posters that mirror the banners are available and being displayed in NIOS partner classrooms.

Culture Showcase. NIOS students at Normal West who organized a talent/sharing of culture show at Normal West H.S. in May 2016.

Culture Fair. NIOS students at Normal Community organized a fair during lunch time that featured foods, dress, and facts from various cultures.

Identifying safe people and places to talk. As students reveal issues at their schools (particularly the high school), they need to know who they can trust to share things that are happening to them. NIOT/NIOS is assisting in helping students identify those individuals.

The theme for this week's CCRC conference, Poking the Bear: Uniting to Challenge Systems of Oppression, focused on aspects of the community that continue to adversely affect some of the groups within it.

Normal West Comunity Showcases Talent, Passion

Not In Our School and its anti-bullying/anti-discrimination efforts received a bow during Normal Community West High School H.Y.P.E.'s (Helping Youth Progress and Excel) recent Showcase Talent Show.

The May 13 program focused on inclusion and diversity, featuring dance, musical performances, spoken word, stand-up comedy, and overall talent from students expressing their creativity and passion. The BCAI-Breaking Chains & Advancing Increase School of Arts provided a special guest performance.

Proceeds from the show were directed towards the hosting school clubs H.Y.P.E. and Not In Our School. H.Y.P.E. will be using half of their proceeds for a Wildcat Fund dedicated to students helping other students with basic unmet needs.

Enjoying NCWHS's showcase were, from left, BCAI Director Angelique Racki, Normal West Not In Our School sponsor John Bierbaum, and NIOTBN's Phani Aytam, Camille Taylor, and Mary Aplington.

Enjoying NCWHS's showcase were, from left, BCAI Director Angelique Racki, Normal West Not In Our School sponsor John Bierbaum, and NIOTBN's Phani Aytam, Camille Taylor, and Mary Aplington.

Basketball Matchup to Benefit Mental Health Organizations

Normal Community West High School's Not In Our Schools program is helping strengthen the lives of McLean Countians with mental health issues through a Friday hoops matchup.

One of two T-shirt designs available at Friday's game.

One of two T-shirt designs available at Friday's game.

A Student vs. Staff Basketball Game is scheduled at 6 p.m. in the North Gym at NCWHS in order to raise funds for mental illness services in the area.

"We are splitting the proceeds 50/50 between NCWHS Guidance and the McLean County Crisis Center," NCWHS NIOS member Micaela Harris said. "It costs $2 to get in, and we will be selling t-shirts for $12."

Not In Our School Making The Elementary Grade

Normal's Unit 5 and Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal continue to plant the seed of inclusivity and security in area elementary schools.

Fox Creek Elementary School has joined Glenn Elementary in flying the Not In Our School banner pledging efforts to stop bullying and bigotry.

Fox Creek Principal Dennis Larson recently presided over a school assembly introducing students to the NIOS program, which has also taken hold in Twin Cities junior high and high schools. Larson also has helped facilitate an effort with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Illinois, Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal, and Promise Council to recruit added adult mentors, particularly men, to help at-risk students who need assistance with their school work.

Unit 5 officials and NIOTBN's Education Subcommittee are looking to bring additional schools into the NIOS program.

Nominees Named for 2016 MLK Awards

Mary Aplington, third from left, at the 2015 MLK Luncheon.

Mary Aplington, third from left, at the 2015 MLK Luncheon.

The 40th annual Martin Luther King Junior Awards in Bloomington-Normal will feature 13 nominees. Four winners will be announced January 16 at ISU's Bone Student Center.

Two high school students and two adults -- including Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal's Mary Aplington, who has been working with local schools to stop bullying and bigotry -- will be recognized for promoting tolerance and understanding.

In the running are students Marcus Brooks, Rahul Vudaru, Veena Yeleswarapu, Rachek Beck, Keerthi Amballa, Amanda Breeden, Amari Funderburg, and Helen Steinbacher-Kemp.

Adult contenders for the honor include: Aplington, NIOTBN alumni Arlene Hosea and Marcos Mendez, Jesse Padilla, and Arthur Haynes.

The Human Relations Commissions of Bloomington and Normal make the selections.

NIOT Workshop Educates Students on Diversity, Respect

Julia Evelsizer

The Pantagraph

Nia Gilbert was the only University High School student who took a day off school Thursday for a unique field trip.

She didn’t visit a museum or tour a courthouse. She spent the day with more than 20 other local students, sharing experiences and opinions about bullying and diversity at the first local Not In Our School (NIOS) workshop.

“We have so many clubs and groups at U High, which is great, but I’d like to see them taking more action instead of just discussing the problems,” said Gilbert, a U High senior. “I think this sort of workshop will help bring those changes we need to schools.”

Gilbert was joined by students and faculty sponsors from Normal Community, Normal West and Bloomington high schools and Bloomington Junior High School at the YWCA in Bloomington.

“The goal of this workshop is to cultivate student leaders, create collaborations among students and schools and provide a forum for youth voices,” said Camille Taylor, co-chair of the Bloomington Normal Not In Our Town (NIOT) education committee.

Twin Cities students participated in a Not In Our School workshop this week focusing on stopping bullying and promoting diversity. They were joined by area teachers and Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal leaders Camille Taylor, front row right, and Mary Aplington, back row fifth from right.

Twin Cities students participated in a Not In Our School workshop this week focusing on stopping bullying and promoting diversity. They were joined by area teachers and Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal leaders Camille Taylor, front row right, and Mary Aplington, back row fifth from right.

With help from the Regional Office of Education and NIOT, the day-long workshop included speakers, activities and discussion.

“Most schools have Key Club and Student Council, but those groups' focus isn’t to create an inclusive climate for students,” said Taylor. “When someone commits suicide or brings a gun to school, we say, ‘How did we not see this coming?’ It’s because we need groups of students and faculty to discuss and address these issues.”

Jay Shannon, Project Oz liaison coordinator with BHS, shared a project called “I See You” created by the HYPE Leadership Group at BHS.

He passed around a poster board with photos of HYPE students sharing their biggest insecurities.

“We should not see our insecurities and differences as weaknesses, but strengths,” said Shannon. “If we share our insecurities we can support each other.”

Amari Funderburg attended the workshop with the plan to strengthen support groups at her high school for future students.

“I want to learn things here and take it back to school and plant seeds,” said Funderburg, NCHS senior. “After I graduate, I want this sort of group to continue to flourish.”

Along with several peers, Funderburg was joined at the workshop by Bryan Thomas, NCHS track and field coach and NIOS sponsor.

“If you see someone being bullied, don’t be a bystander, be an upstander,” Thomas said to students. “Talk to your teachers. It makes us aware of what’s going on with you guys and helps us understand how to help.”

Between teacher presentations, students were eager to participate and share experiences and solutions. The sponsors sat back, listened and took notes.

“I’ve found that students are more open to diversity than adults,” said John Bierbaum, NIOS club sponsor for West. “In the midst of such polarizing politics, kids need the space and opportunity in school to focus on these issues instead of just rhetoric.”

NIOS Workshop To Focus on Safer Schools

In partnership with Regional Office of Education #17, Bloomington Normal Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal  (NIOTBN) will hold a Not In Our School (NIOS) workshop for local students on 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 10 at the McLean County YWCA, 1201 North Hershey Road. Bloomington.

The mission of Not In Our Town is to stop hate, address bullying, and build safe, inclusive communities. NIOS is a natural outgrowth of this mission, working to create safe schools across our country.  NIOTBN is affiliated with this national organization, and its supporters pledge to help erase bigotry and bullying from their workplace, from their businesses, from their classrooms and campuses.  NIOTBN hopes to foster a more inclusive community for all.

Through the efforts of NIOTBN’s Education Committee, Not In Our School groups are being established at many local schools. Bloomington High School, Bloomington Junior High School, Normal West High School, and Normal Community High School are among those that have adopted NIOSinitiatives. NIOS student members embody the mission, vision, and values of Not In Our Town.  

The first local NIOS workshop will:

● Cultivate student leaders representing five local schools;

● Create collaborative alliances among students, schools, and administrations;

● Provide a forum for youth voices and concerns;

● Develop deeper understandings of barriers to safe and inclusive schools;

● Facilitate the identification of actions that will result in safer schools;

● Empower students to be leaders and change agents;

● Identify and provide access to tools and resources that support schools’ efforts; and

● Create a structure for sustainability of collaboration among schools.

The Regional Office of Education #17 is partnering with NIOS and assisting with this workshop. YWCA leadership,  ROE #17 staff,  local police chiefs, and superintendents, principals, and staff of participating schools are among those who will participate in this collaborative workshop.