By Caitlin Kahaly
On the first day of the school year, teachers typically choose to get to know their students through classic name-sharing games such as human bingo and icebreaker activities. In addition to these first day traditions, several Walpole High School teachers gave students the opportunity to share their preferred pronouns to be more inclusive of the entire student body.
Teachers collected this information from students in class through either an online survey, written on an index card or shared out loud, depending on each teacher’s preference. Last year, Principal Stephen Imbusch attended one of the Gay Straight Alliance meetings to make the students feel more accepted.
“Within public schools, the laws are very clear that we have to be very inclusive of everybody, and I wouldn’t want it to be any different,” Imbusch said. “I wanted to show support by going to the club. I was pleasantly surprised at how relaxed everybody was with my presence there.”
Before the start of the 2017-2018 school year, Walpole High School Gay Straight Alliance Advisor Ashley Prickel spoke to faculty regarding inclusivity. She reminded teachers that they can implement this first day activity as a way to make all of their students feel comfortable in the classroom.
“Asking the students was not mandatory, completely by choice. The whole thing was an invitation to embrace change and embrace our students,” Prickel said.
The group who supported this change included several Gay Straight Alliance members at the high school. The GSA is a club not just for LGBTQ students, but for students who want to support their peers and help create a welcoming environment for all.
“Being asked was really nice and refreshing to see more awareness in my classes. Some kids made fun of it; you could see it made them uncomfortable, but this was very important to do,” sophomore GSA member Emily Tomasetti said.
Last spring, a speaker from the Safe Schools program spoke to all faculty regarding the inclusivity of LGBTQ, which initiated the discussion of pronoun sharing. The Safe Schools program is a special commision for LGBTQ students and is run by the Massachusetts Department of Education. After the Walpole High faculty attended this presentation, Prickel began brainstorming different ways to include students who may not choose to identify with their biological gender.
“Teachers are just like the kids: it’s new and it’s different, and they are open to change, but you have to let people change how they want to and feel like they can,” Prickel said.
As a result of the Safe Schools meeting, teachers gained more knowledge regarding the importance of inclusivity in the classroom.
“It was very educational for us because we may have students who use these pronouns,” math teacher Zach Okolowitcz said. “It will make them feel more welcomed overall.”