A student-run club at Shoreham-Wading River High School that aims to create a safe space for LGBT students and supporters recently got funds to expand its mission.
The Gay-Straight Alliance, launched in the 2014-15 school year as a localized version of a nationwide
program, received a $500 grant from the Long Island Language Arts Council (LILAC) to purchase books promoting awareness and compassion for people who are different. The yet-to-be-selected books will address challenges that gay and transgender youths face in the educational system and will be used by club members for group discussions and a large project during the club’s annual Positivity Week events in April. During the week, the club, which is made up of 20 members with a 50/50 balance of gay and straight students, extends its reach to educate other students in an effort to help others be more inclusive.
“We can expose our members to diverse experiences to bridge the empathy gap and foster acceptance and understanding for diverse individuals.”
— Alana Philcox
The club’s co-advisors — English teachers Alana Philcox and Edward Storck — developed the idea for the books and wrote a proposal to LILAC to be considered for its annual grant.
“As English teachers, we understand the critical role that literature can have in starting a dialogue,” Philcox said. “By integrating bibliotherapeutic strategies into instruction and selecting texts with authentic depictions, we can expose our members to diverse experiences to bridge the empathy gap and foster acceptance and understanding for diverse individuals.”
Philcox and Storck said they are still in the process of choosing books depending on the students’ interests, as the texts will be matched to the needs of individual club members. The teachers said they hope the books provide students with protagonists and characters that help he or she better understand themselves.
“We’re hopeful that this will give students empathy as it relates to all diversity,” Philcox and Storck said in an email.
The district’s Gay-Straight Alliance was formed after LGBT students and their friends said they felt there wasn’t an outlet to express themselves in school. When the club was established in Shoreham-Wading River, it had already been successful in multiple districts across the county, including Riverhead and Mattituck.
“Wherever you look, there will be opposition, but also, there’s a lot of beauty and acceptance among people.”
— Rose Honold
“Generally, we talk about ways to better our school in the ways of acceptance of the LGBT community,” said Rose Honold, a Shoreham senior who became president of the club as a sophomore. As a lesbian, Honold said she was searching for her place in the school, and found it immediately upon joining the club. “In Shoreham, it’s very mixed. Wherever you look, there will be opposition, but also, there’s a lot of beauty and acceptance among people. The administration especially has been wonderful in terms of acceptance towards the students. The only thing that I hope to change is the way some of the other students treat students in the club.”
Honald said she would like the inclusive books to one day be part of the school’s regular English curriculum.
Her friend Alyssa Hernandez, who was a member of the Gay-Straight Alliance as a junior in 2016, said after Honold came out to her, she joined the club to “learn more about how to be a good, supportive friend.”
“I had other friends in the group that were gay too, and I just wanted to be able to understand them more, because I didn’t know a lot,” she said. “In high school, you only know what you see on TV. For the most part, Shoreham-Wading River is a really good district when it comes to being accepted for who you are.”
On the Gay-Straight Alliance and its recent grant, district Superintendent Gerard Poole said he likes how the club supports a well-rounded education.
“[The club] prepares students for the world around them,” he said. “[It teaches] tolerance, perspective, advocacy and collaboration. I hope it promotes peace in their lives and in our schools and communities.”