Serving All Students with Pride

6 Min Read
Pride Hero

©Octavio Jones/REUTERS/Alamy

Welcome to Pride Month! At HMH, we proudly recognize and support the LGBTQIA+ community within our organization and across the education space, not only this month, but every day. This demonstration of support is more important than ever in the current cultural climate that is rife with derision, division, and exclusion. As HMH’s Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer, and as someone with decades of experience witnessing and living a life where I feared being my true self—with black skin, a wide smile, kinky hair, and a sway of confidence in my step—in places where I was made to feel I didn’t belong, I want to do everything I can to make sure that when students attend school, they have a sense of belonging. All students have the right to feel respected, to feel affirmed, and to know that they have agency. This is not a privilege—it is a right. All students have the right to enter a classroom and know they won’t feel left out or excluded.

The Whole Child

The support of this right is most crucial with at-risk populations, and it can have a profound positive impact. A 2022 Trevor Project study, using methodology approved by an independent Institutional Review Board, concluded that “although LGBTQ youth reported many serious challenges, they also described hundreds of ways in which they find joy and strength in their lives. From their favorite activities to seeing representation and allyship, the wide range of responses emphasizes that we can all help create safe, supportive environments where LGBTQ youth can feel happy and express themselves.” The report further stated that LGBTQIA+ students who felt they had supportive curriculum are 12% less likely to miss school; perform better academically (3.32 vs. 3.23 GPA); are more likely to pursue secondary education; and feel greater belonging to their school community.

When the whole child is welcomed into the classroom, that student will have the best path to both academic achievement and personal growth. A 2019 study by the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development concluded that “Children learn best when we treat them as human beings, with social and emotional as well as academic needs.” A 2017 study published in Child Development found that school-based social-emotional programs for K–12 students led, within an average of 3.5 years, to student gains that were an average of 13 percentile points higher than the gains of students not in social and emotionally supportive programs.

The absence of support for the whole child, especially for vulnerable populations, can lead to grave outcomes for both learning and personal safety. When you don’t feel like you belong, you are not going to be able to grow and learn. Worse, that lack of belonging can be dangerous. A 2019 study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention | CDC found that more than 2 in 10 LGBTQ+ students did not go to school because of safety concerns and 43% of transgender youth have been bullied on school property. The more recent 2022 Trevor Project study determined that more than 58% of LGBTQ youth also reported experiencing indicators of anxiety and depression symptoms.

Urgency and Commitment

Can anyone look at those numbers and not come away feeling that there’s urgent work to be done? I am dedicated to this work and to a desire to always be learning, as is HMH. We’re not always going to get it right the first time, but we can always keep learning and remain focused on affirming every child for who they are. At HMH, we regularly gather feedback from educators, students, and families, and we consult with both internal and external experts to ensure that our materials are inclusive and that our content development guidelines align with the latest research and best practices on creating equity centered environments for all learners. Our materials are evaluated across a dozen different dimensions to ensure equitable representation. We are committed to reflecting and promoting diversity and equity, especially regarding individuals’ roles, capabilities, and potential--this includes representing LGBTQIA+ people in a variety of contexts, avoiding stereotypes, and using gender inclusive language.

Mirrors for All

HMH has a commitment to building windows and mirrors for all students, and a commitment to always learn, gain new awareness, and seek ways in which we might prevent a child from feeling like they do not belong.

I want LGBTQIA+ students to have all the support they need to be safe, to learn, and to grow. I was lucky as a child to have had a teacher, Ms. Eunice Royster, who made sure that I felt like I belonged. I was getting bullied quite a bit at that time. The bullies called me a bookworm, but Ms. Royster saw me. From time to time, she would ask me to stay after school, at the end of the day, noticing me nervously looking out the window at my tormentors. She kept me safe, and she recognized something in me that I did not yet know about myself. She believed in me, encouraged me, challenged me. I trace so many of the wonderful trajectories in my life of learning to her understanding me, protecting me, giving me the opportunity to grow.

This Pride Month, I hope you will join me in supporting and recognizing the LGBTQIA+ community and in doing everything we can to make sure that when LGBTQIA+ students enter a classroom, they feel like they belong. I know how I felt when my teacher Ms. Royster made sure I felt like I belonged. It was like the feeling in the photograph at the top of this page, from HMH’s U.S. History program. What do you notice when you look at that picture? What I observe is a blast of joy. I can spot young people, all beaming with happiness, so many of them looking at one another, smiling at one another, relating to one another. To me, it shows that they are feeling it: that lasting, unsurpassable boost of belonging.

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