A new mentoring program for LGBT students will launch at Lincoln Park High Schoolthe brainchild of the school's dean of students, who happens to be a straight, married woman.
"My background in research is working with LGBT students and identity development; that was a big area that I focused on while I was in graduate school at Indiana University," said Christy Walker, 28. "This is something that I've always been passionate about, and in education I think it's really important that we're teaching inclusion and equality."
The Lincoln Park Youth Society, as it will be known, officially kicked off earlier this year, mixing monthly social events with a mentoring program for high school students with area college and graduate-level students who also identify as LGBT a la Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Lincoln Park High School, with about 2,300 students, does not have a gay-straight alliance. Walker said the Youth Society could be a model program for all Chicago Public Schools.
"When I came to Lincoln Park [High School this past September], it was just natural for me; I saw that there wasn't really anything in place for LGBT students," Walker said. "Within the first three weeks of being here, I had a young lesbian come in [to my office] and saw that she didn't have a mentor in her life. So this is a population that I wanted to create a support network for here at Lincoln Park."
Nico Lang, a DePaul University graduate student and former associate director for The Civil Rights Agenda, is helping form the organization and working with the mentors. He also is an LGBT community activist and noted blogger.
"The big thing for me is, we build a solid foundation and then allow the program to grow because I want it to be successful and I want it to be something that has longevity," Walker said.
"Back in the day, people tried to teach tolerance. But it's more than just tolerance; it's acceptance, engaging in diverse perspectives. I see this as a stepping stone to creating awareness and education at Lincoln Park about the diverse identities of the students who go here, and to really prepare them for the next step [in life] since we are college preparatory school."
Walker stressed the program will be highly confidential for those who participate, unless they want to personally publicize their involvement.
"We really want this to be a good experience for the students and also for the mentors," Walker said. "I think it's great that there are so many college students and graduate-[level] students who want to give back to [high school] students in this area and help with the students' identity development."
Walker wants to eventually include teachers who want to support the program.
She has had verbal interest from at least six studentstwo females, four males, with all years in school representedwho want to participate.
There have not been any LGBT bullying-related issues this school year at Lincoln Park, Walker said.
"I think the whole thing is building a [relationship] with the students," said Walker, who noted that she has "many close friends and family members who identify within the [LGBT] community, so I've always been a strong advocate for [this community.]
"All students should feel welcome and never feel biased, based on who they are."
Lincoln Park HS and TCRA create LGBTQ mentor program
From a news release
Organizers are reaching out for mentors to join the Lincoln Park Youth Society (LPYS) mentor-mentee volunteer program.
The Civil Rights Agenda has recently partnered with Lincoln Park High School to create an LGBTQ-focused mentorship program for Lincoln Park High School students. The program aims to create a safe, inclusive space within Lincoln Park High School for students to come, engage, discuss, and express their gender and sexual identity and discuss issues relevant to their high school community and the larger LGBTQ community.
The Civil Rights Agenda and Lincoln Park High School are looking for mentors that wish to become involved with the program. They are holding a round of interviews Friday, May 3 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at TCRA, 2129 N. Western Ave. Interested parties should bring a resume and a cover letter with them to apply for the program.
Mentors will be responsible for providing students with a positive role model inside and outside LPHS meetings and will be expected to conduct themselves responsibly and professionally when interacting with youth both in the group setting and outside of it. The mentor will engage in group and one-on-one interactions with the youth they are partnered with, which will give them time to interact in personal dialogues and larger ones with their peers. The mentor will foster discussion and aid in establishing critical thinking skills amongst the mentees; this will give students a means to start engaging the world around them and think about affecting change, both at the high school level and in a larger context.
In addition to these discussions, mentors will also be responsible for developing and coaching students with their semester-long project, one focused on the generation of a creative work that speaks to the individual experiences of the youth. Although this time will help the student and mentor to bond, mentors will not be responsible for maintaining the mental health of their mentees. In any event that the mentor is met with circumstances that they feel they are unqualified to handle, they must immediately report the circumstances to LPHS facilitators who will then contact LPHS officials. Mentors will not encourage disruptive, bad, or harmful behavior. Mentors will be responsible for maintaining and cultivating a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment for the students and maintaining contact with the youth they are partnered with.
The meetings will be conducted once a month and consist of two equal parts that will last a total of 90 minutes. At that time, the mentors and mentees will pair up to participate in a group discussion, followed by one of one interaction outside of the group. This meeting will take place on May 10 at 2:45 p.m. at Lincoln Park High School, 2001 N. Orchard St.
For all media requests or questions about the program, please contact Sarah Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org, Zach Stafford at email@example.com or Nico Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org .