High School Well-Being | Identity & Alliances: Building Empathy & Understanding

Working as a high school educator at Green School, I have the opportunity to teach well-being classes to students in grades nine through twelve.  Our holistic high school well-being program was designed with the intention of creating an inclusive program that recognizes the holistic health of an individual taking into account 3 main interconnected components: Health, Wellbeing & Relationships, Movement – Skill & Performance, Lifestyles – Healthy, Safe and Active. The program includes both theory and practical learning objectives and aims to encourage the individual to flourish in all aspects of their holistic wellbeing.  We started the school year with a focus on the theme “Free to Be Me”, with the guiding question, “How can I be the best version of myself and support the identity of others?” During this six week block, one of my colleagues invited special guest, Kai Mata, to speak and perform.

photo courtesy of: qreview.ca
Kai is a native Indonesian who fled to the USA with her family in 1998 due to political and civil unrest.  Kai returned to Indonesia at the age of 14 and attended an international school in Jakarta first, then another in Bali.  Kai is regarded as the only openly “out” musician who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community in conservative Indonesia. She is passionate about human rights, equality and equity for minority groups. Kai, who uses her music to tell stories and promote empathy released a single titled, “So Hard”, which has led to her being the recipient of much hate and conversely, much love, for her courage to be open about her identity.
When Kai came to speak at our high school assembly, one question she asked the audience of one hundred plus high school students was if we had a Gay-Straight Alliance or any kind of visible support group for the LGBTQ+ community. The simple answer was, no. It was a bit of a shocking realization considering how ‘progressive’ and ‘diverse’ our school community claims to be and is in many ways.  I think there is a misguided belief that because we have diverse families and faculty members, faculty and families with parents and children that identify in the LGBTQ community, that there was no need for visible representation because we were ‘visibly’ accepting of everyone. It was at that exact moment that I knew I had do something in our school community to change this.
Fast forward a week later, I’m having dinner with Kai Mata discussing the importance and necessity of creating visible representation and safe spaces in our school and feeling empowered by her (she’s 15 years my junior) and our conversation to take action.  Another week later I am in a well-being planning meeting with my team, pitching my idea for a block two ‘Identity and Alliances’ class that could fit within our theme of “Can You Relate?”.  I was received with open arms, the team gave me the green light to pitch my elective well-being class to our school students during course pitches and although I was unsure what the response from students would be I was pleasantly surprised when eighteen students showed up to my first class.
Click on image to view unit slides
The feedback from other teachers in our school while my students worked to complete their various initiatives was both positive and deeply encouraging for myself as I guided the students through this course. The support received from a variety of teachers from primary school through high school, specifically on the inclusive and diverse libraries initiative was empowering for my students and gave them the confidence they needed to keep pushing the initiative forward.  Throughout this unit, the students and I were reminded how important the work we are doing is for our community and although the class has recently come to an end and our work is not done, I am hopeful knowing that what our class started has not only ignited important conversations in our community, but has also created a groundswell for others to get involved in creating more visible safe spaces in and around our campus.
I am forever grateful for the privilege to have met and to now know Kai Mata. Our otherwise unlikely meeting reminds me of question #233 from, The Book of Questions which I posed to my tenth grade well-being “Free to Be Me” class earlier this year:  “Has anyone, over a short period of time, significantly influenced your life?”  I can say without a doubt that meeting Kai has significantly influenced my life.  Listening to her share her message with confidence and with a sense of responsibility to use her gifts and place in the world to share a positive message and activate change empowered me to do the same for my own school community. At the very least, I hope I have impacted the life of even one Green School student that may now, as a result of this class, feel seen, heard, supported, and no longer alone.