Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Relationships and Connections


The secret to building trust in education... Relationships, relationships, and relationships.

I can’t remember who said this. I found it the other day while I was scrolling through Twitter. I’m pretty sure the author is a teacher. At any rate, it’s the ideal way to begin a piece about the upcoming HoCo Rainbow Conference.  The idea for the conference was born out of conversations between a teacher and her students, and their willingness to share openly and listen to each other.

Danielle DuPuis, Media Specialist at Hammond High School and advisor for the school's SAGA (Sexuality and Gender Alliance) Club, was inspired by conversations she had with club members. Some voiced concerns that teachers didn’t really understand them or that they were harassed by other students. They also expressed a desire to meet LGBTQ+ students and allies from other schools. Ms. DuPuis conceived of the HoCoRainbow Conference as a way to engage and educate within the school system as well as in the broader community while allowing students to make connections with their peers as well.

Despite the pandemic, the first HoCoRainbow Conference was held last year on May 15th, 2021 using a virtual format. And they’re back in the virtual format again this year on Saturday, May 15th. This year’s theme is: Focus Your Vision, Find Your Voice: Be Seen, Be Heard.

Here’s the big picture: the conference is free and open to anyone in the Howard County area: students, teachers, staff, parents, community members. All you need to do is register. (Did I mention that it’s free?)

HoCo Rainbow Conference (9 am - 5 pm) consists of:

  • A keynote speaker
  • Over 26 sessions to choose from
  • Rainbow Vision Literary Magazine
  • Read the Rainbow Bookclub
  • Rainbow Pridecast (a podcast)
Keynote speaker Mikah Meyer, founder of Outside Safe Space, is on a three year mission to explore all 419 National Park sites and raise awareness for LGTBQ + people while doing so. He will be speaking on the theme, “You are ordinary and extraordinary.”
Participants may choose up to 8 (but the exact number is up to them) of the many sessions being offered. Categories represented are: Advocacy & Social Justice, Health, Self-Awareness, Curriculum & Instruction, Literature, and Creative Expression. There will also be two Breakout Sessions where there will be an opportunity meet others and play some games. Thanks to the generous sponsorship of E.C. Pops and Shake Shack, there will be prizes, too.

The Rainbow Vision Literary Magazine brings together submissions in a variety of categories ranging from short story, poetry, art work, song lyrics, personal narrative, essay, film/video, music/audio, photography, script/play/manuscript, and drawing.  Rainbow Vision will include material that has an LGBTQ+ theme, is written by LGBTQIA+ authors and their allies, and/or is written for an LGBTQ+ audience. Last year’s Literary Magazine received the rating of “Excellent” by NCTE and the REALM program awards.

New this year is the Read the Rainbow Book Club, which has provided students with books on LGBTQ+ themes and/or by LGBTQ+ authors. Grant funding covered the cost of books and participants were able to meet with authors during online book chats.

Also new: Rainbow Pridecast, a podcast to help you learn more more about the LGBTQ+ community. Each episode highlights local (and not-so-local) voices, including allies. Many of the conference presenters are featured.

Circling back to my opening theme of relationships and making connections, I think it’s important to note the growth of this conference in just one year. Under the leadership of Ms. DuPuis and with the support of student interns, the HoCoRainbow Conference has made new connections and drawn in support from other departments within the school system. These new connections have allowed the conference to have a deeper and wider reach. 

The HCPSS Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is supporting the printing of the Rainbow Vision Literary Magazine, and members will be assisting with moderating sessions at the conference. The Department of Program Innovation and Student Well-Being has recently made it possible for students to add their pronouns into Canvas by turning on the pronoun feature. (Canvas is the only digital tool used by HCPSS that allows for pronouns.)  They are also starting an LGBTQ+ workgroup which will begin meeting later this month. So far responses have been received from 150 interested participants: students, parents, staff members, and members of the community.

The best responses to student needs can happen when teachers and students create supportive and respectful relationships, and where students are enabled to pursue ideas and issues that are meaningful to them. That’s exactly what happened here as one teacher and her students nurtured an idea and launched it into the world as a full-fledged community event. In the process they’ve opened up a whole new way for our community to learn and connect.

To learn more and to register: HoCo Rainbow Conference 2021

To connect with HoCo Rainbow Conference:

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