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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 13, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 37
Start-up nonprofit welcomes LGBT students back to school with 'Hope in a Box'
Section One
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Start-up nonprofit welcomes LGBT students back to school with 'Hope in a Box'

NEW YORK (September 9, 2019) - Hope in a Box, a start-up nonprofit based in New York that developed the definitive primer [on] LGBTQ-inclusive literature for young adults, is working with dozens of university professors and middle and high school teachers across the country to make hundreds of rural public school more LGBTQ inclusive. The founding team of recent college graduates designed a bibliography of 50 books - with supporting movies, magazines, and albums - that is already helping dozens of teachers diversify their classrooms nationwide, to rave reviews. Their effort is part of a growing national movement to diversify public school curricula, notably in NJ, IL, CO, MD, and OR.

Founded in 2018, Hope in a Box collaborates with public schools to make rural classrooms more LGBT inclusive. Through literature donations, curriculum building, and educator coaching, Hope in a Box is a free resource that aims to cultivate accepting environments for students from young ages, paving the way for mental and emotional well-being throughout life.

This spring, Hope in a Box partnered with 25 rural public schools to pilot 'Starter Boxes': packages of 20-30 books from their bibliography along with supporting multimedia and curriculum guides for key texts. Teachers celebrated the materials as 'a treasure' and 'potentially life-saving.' Based on feedback from users, 100% of educators feel better equipped to reach and support LGBT students because of Hope in a Box, and 90% believe Hope in a Box noticeably improves LGBT students' emotional well-being within one semester of receiving materials; 80% of educators plan to formally incorporate the materials into their curricula this academic year. The pilot schools are diverse, including a traditional Mormon school in Washington State, low-income schools in rural Vermont and New Jersey, and conservative Southern schools in Tennessee and Alabama, among others.

The team's early success has already attracted attention and funding from the Wal-Mart Foundation and Command Education. Kevin Jennings, the founder of GLSEN and President Obama's former Head of Safe Schools said: 'Hope in a Box's work is literally saving lives. When young LGBTQ people see themselves reflected in school curricula, their sense of self and well-being goes up dramatically, and rates of bullying and harassment drop just as dramatically. By providing these resources to schools with little access to them, Hope in a Box is making a life-saving difference for many young people.'

By end of the 2019 school year, Hope in a Box aims to support hundreds of rural schools in all 50 states; nearly 200 schools across 35 states already joined a waitlist. The nonprofit's goal is to help at least half of these schools incorporate the materials into curricula.

Many children rarely see positive representation of LGBT identities in school. In 2018, the Human Rights Campaign found that only 13% of students heard positive messaging around LGBT identity in schools; just one in four LGBT students always feel safe in school, and 73% receive threats because of their sexuality. These issues are especially severe in rural areas, according to GLSEN, the LGBTQ nonprofit.

Joe English, founder of Hope in a Box and a 2017 graduate of Yale University, said, 'I know that feeling of isolation and invisibility personally, having grown up in a small, rural town. After college, I returned to my high school to share my experience with my teachers and see how we could make the next generation of students feel more supported.' Not only did English's teachers acknowledge a need for diversity, they expressed a great desire to build a library of books and materials to support their LGBTQ students. But without deep familiarity with the subject matter or resources to acquire diverse materials, their hands were tied. English founded Hope in a Box to help rural teachers, like his own, overcome these barriers.

For more information and a full list of the materials and curriculum, go to: www.hopeinabox.org

Compendium of quotes from educators
" 'Our small rural district isn't very diverse; it's been incredibly important for us to find creative ways to help students be open-minded and empathetic. I'm so grateful for the guidance and generosity of the Hope In A Box program because it sends our students such an important message: we recognize LGBTQ students and we appreciate them.' - Kristen, grade 9-11 English

" 'Having a character in literature to connect to can make all the difference for some kids who feel alone.' - Sheryl, middle school English

" 'This is an incredibly small Mormon community. This town has many old beliefs; students could definitely use these novels to broaden their understanding of other races, genders, [and] perspectives of other people. It was like Christmas morning when your package came.' - Amanda, HS ELA

" 'As a queer Latino educator, I am deeply committed to fostering a loving and inclusive classroom environment for every student. The books you all so graciously gifted my classroom has helped me create such a classroom that is affirming and accepting of all identities. During independent reading time, my students have been reading the books and actively voicing how much they are enjoying reading them. I am confident that these books have already beautifully impacted the lives and world views of my children.' - Israel, middle school English

" 'I told my students that I have LGBT books available for them, and three took me up on it on the first day! They thanked me profusely and have told me that they are very much enjoying the books. It is so important for these young people to know that they have support no matter what, and that I love them for who they are!' - Ashely, middle school ELA

" 'My own students have been as excited as I am to open each package, and I am thrilled! There is such a huge need for inclusive and accepting literature. Books heal. Books offer hope. Books can speak to the soul the way no living human can. This collection is a treasure. I wish we had a dozen sets! This is such a gift.' - Elizabeth, high school English literature

" 'From the second I saw The Miseducation of Cameron Post on the shelf, I knew I wanted to read it. I was expecting the typical story of the atrocities committed in conversion schools (where they 'heal' LGBT people into being straight 'like God intended'), but what I got was something different. I related to Cameron. I know how it feels to have been confused and feel like I need to hide who I truly am from everyone. When I got to the end of this book, I felt so happy that there was a book like this in the world for people like me to read.' - Student, grade 10

" 'I see these books constantly checked in and out sort of silently by my students... By the nature of where a lot of students are in their journey, there hasn't been a lot of open discussion yet, but these books signal to my students that they are safe with me.' - Dawn, grade 7-12 librarian

" 'This library is what lets my students feel comfortable writing about LGBTQ issues and characters in their creative and personal writing.' - HS creative writing

Courtesy of Target Cue

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