Sharing a Story

Our Lead Educator Cameron has posted a part of his gender-identity story online, and we wanted to make sure to share it here, too. We hope it helps folks who may be struggling to understand where they fit in the myriad spectra we all inhabit.

Be Well, Fam ❤

Cameron’s Story

Parents: We MUST Teach Our Kids To VOTE

Election Day

Tomorrow is Election Day here in the US, and that means many people will be taking time out of their day to go and vote, if they haven’t already. Depending on where you live, that may mean going to a polling place to stand in line, use some machine or other, and cast a ballot; it might mean driving a mail-in ballot to some official collection spot; or else perhaps checking an app for the status of the absentee or mail-in ballot you sent back days or weeks before.

No matter how it looks or who you vote for though, the important thing is to do it, though sadly lots of people don’t, and while understand the frustration some feel in the process, the fact that it can be obtuse at times, or the persistent fears that our votes may not count or be counted for one reason or another, we maintain that it is incredibly important to go out and vote… and especially if you’re a parent, to involve your kids.

Why?

For Our Kids’ Future

The first and most important reason to vote as a parent is for the sake of your children, and specifically their future. Bear with us – we understand this sounds very crunchy – but the reality is that whether or not you feel that the elections will have a direct impact on your life, it is certain that the choices made each election will have an impact on theirs. Without digging into the specific politics and policies, it’s a safe bet that each election season, there are some mix of candidates and ballot measures that will impact you children’s schools, parks, play spaces, and beyond for years to come.

Perhaps school funding is on the table, as in many places here in Colorado. Maybe there’s a candidate who is dedicated to making more green spaces for kids to play, or expanding access to school lunches, or improving teachers’ pay. All of these things impact our children tremendously, and us as well.

Modeling Skills

Another big reason to involve your children in your voting process is to model skills. Even if you largely vote a straight ticket (all for one party or another), there’s a process that you follow to make your decisions, and to cast your ballot. So, this comes in two parts: first, modeling your decision-making process (which could include research, conversations, or even family traditions), and second, modeling the process you use to actually cast your ballot, once your decisions are made.

Modeling research skills is of course important because our children are doing just that every day in school. Demonstrating that research happens at home, too – that it’s applicable in everyday life – lets our kids know that it’s a transferable skill, something that, if developed, they can take with them as part of their learning toolkit for the rest of their life.

Modeling the process is equally important: voting, though not perfect and not quite universal, is an integral part of the function of groups, communities, and nations across the planet. Moreover, by demonstrating the process to our children (who we already know are sponges for everything we say and do as parents), we normalize the practice, and so make it less intimidating for our kids, when the chance arises for them.

It’s (Probably) Not Taught In School

Many parents, even younger ones, still remember some version of Social Studies or Government classes from our time growing up, and those classes almost invariably encompassed some broad concepts of the functions and processes of government, or “civics”. Essentially, for better or worse, voting used to be taught in school, but that is largely no longer the case. Much as with “Sex Ed”, art, and music, civics is (ahem, strangely) considered to be too controversial a topic for schools to be able to “properly” handle it, and so it has been pushed further and further to the wayside.

Whether you feel this is a problem or not, the result is the same: your children will almost certainly not learn about the process unless you teach them. If you care that your children become voters as adults, the best way to ensure it is to model it.

Voting Matters

Although you may have thoughts about our politics here at Collage, we care more that you vote than for whom or what you cast your ballot, because at the end of the day, voting makes a difference. For better or worse, in large ways or small, our system of government allows us to have a say in the direction that we move as a society. It is a tremendous and unprecedented amount of power in the grand arc of history, and something for which so many of our ancestors fought and sacrificed dearly.

As such, our votes and our actions around the process are the greatest legacy we leave our children, collectively. Let us leave one we can be proud of.

Further Resources

There are lots of wonderful resources available to help inform your voting process. We would love to cover more, and we may in the future, but for today we would like to recommend Ballotpedia, a fantastic site that gives clear and comprehensive breakdowns of virtually every ballot in the country, in a nonpartisan format.

Spirit Day & #WhenIBegan


Spirit Day is an annual celebration organized by GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (though in reality, they are so much more), as a day of solidarity against bullying and bigotry, and particularly for LGBTQ+ folks.

From GLAAD’s #SpiritDay launch page:

“Spirit Day is a means of speaking out against LGBTQ bullying and standing with LGBTQ youth, who disproportionately face bullying and harassment because of their identities. Pledging to “go purple” on Spirit Day is a way for everyone — forward-thinking companies, global leaders, respected celebrities, neighbors, parents, classmates, and friends — to visibly show solidarity with LGBTQ youth and to take part in the largest, most visible anti-bullying campaign in the world.”


From Cameron, Founder of Collage Colorado, LLC
Originally Published on Facebook October, 2014

I tell this story today in honor of #spiritday, a campaign against bullying. I’ve told this story in confidence to a small number of people in my life, but today for the first time I am going to share it publicly. I won’t name names. I don’t want pity. I made my peace with this event years ago.

TRIGGER WARNING: LGBT bullying, sexism, misogyny, physical assault, and some language. I want to warn you now that what I am about to describe is not pretty, and I will not censor it; that may be triggering for some, and if it is, I fully understand if you don’t keep reading.

All of my life I’ve been a small guy. Heck, I’m 5’5” NOW (and I ain’t growin’ any taller, let me assure you). In high school, I wasn’t just short, I was also pretty meek. I read a lot, raised my hand in class all the time, and spent as much time talking to teachers as I did talking to peers. I was a nerd.

I don’t know when he first targeted me. He was an upperclassman, a year or so ahead of me. At some point he decided I was gonna be his proverbial punching bag. I don’t know why. I don’t care. All I know is that we had Spanish together for a year, and sometime during that year he decided that I was the kid who was going to take his assaults.

At first, it was all verbal. Every day, he would find some reason to call me “gay” or “fag” or “queer”. I didn’t know how to respond. Once or twice maybe I told him to “f*** off”, but guaranteed that didn’t change a thing. The teacher apparently didn’t know how to respond either. If she overheard him calling me something, she’d meekly reprimand him, but that’s about it. It hurt me a lot (and yes, I am gay, I am queer, but that’s beside the point). I don’t know if I cried. I do know that at the time, it made me hate myself, and it made me hate going to class. But I had no choice. I wanted to go to college. I lived in a tiny little town, part of a regional district that took three whole towns to make one high school. My parents couldn’t afford private school. I had no options, I had to stay.

If it had stayed verbal, I probably could have dealt with the assaults. It didn’t. One day I came to class; like any other day I hiked the stairs of the old school, and got to class a little early (I never used my locker… I don’t even remember where it was, but it would have been a joke trying to get to it and then to class without being chewed out for being late). That day, the teacher wasn’t there yet, but he was, as well as most of the class. I think he was waiting for me. I got to the door and he was standing there in the frame. He wouldn’t let me in. I tried to push past him, but he was a good deal bigger than me. I got frustrated, and was about to walk away when he pulled the pointer out.

It was one of those old, three-and-a-half foot long wooden pointers with a bullet-shaped rubber tip, and a short nail in the back end to hang it on the wall, near the chalkboard. He scratched my arm with it. I was horrified. I didn’t know what to do. He scratched again, on my other arm. And again. I started to walk away… I don’t know where I thought I was going, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to stand there. When I turned around to leave, he scratched me, HARD, on the back of my neck. I was trying to walk away down the hall when the teacher walked up. She didn’t notice the scratches. I tried to tell her what happened, but she was flustered, and told me to go in and sit down. I did.

After Spanish class, I had lunch. There, my friends noticed the scratches, which were bleeding and swollen. I explained what happened. They told me to go to the nurse… I resisted a bit, but finally agreed and asked some teacher for permission to leave. The nurse was shocked. She put Neosporin on the cuts. She told me she had to tell the principal. I begged her not to; I was so scared. I went back to lunch, and then to my next class. Sometime during that class, I was called to the vice-rincipal’s office. I explained what happened. The vice-principal asked if I wanted to do anything about it. I said yes. His response? If I wanted him to do anything about it, I would have to sit and tell my “side” with the other kid there, next to me. I refused… I was so scared. He said if that was the case, there was nothing he could do. I left. I cried in my next class. Quietly.

When I got home, my parents noticed the cuts. They were really obvious. I told them what happened; my dad was furious. I’ve maybe never seen him so angry. He went into the other room and called the school. I remember him shouting really loudly. He told me when he came back that they’d promised to suspend the other kid. I didn’t feel much better. A little bit, maybe.

The next day, I went to school. The guy who’d cut me was there, too. In Spanish. Walking the halls. The next day, too. And the next. I don’t know who told me, but I asked someone (a teacher, maybe) what was going on. They told me his mom was on the school board, and that she had insisted there was “no way he could have done such a thing!” He was never suspended. He was never punished. I had physical scars for a year. I hated that guy for longer… more years than I’m proud to admit. I wanted some sort of retribution. At some point I let it go, but it tainted – it scarred – a part of my soul for a long time.

Please never take bullying lightly. I recovered. My scars healed, but so often, and for so many, they never do. So many beautiful lives are lost each year to the trauma of bullying. Please, no more. Never again.


#WhenIBegan

If you read all the way through our first-ever Revolutionary Read of the Month post a few days ago, or you’ve been looking around the site recently, you probably saw this mentioned. #WhenIBegan is a hashtag campaign that we’re starting at Collage Colorado… and it needs your help! If you haven’t already, check out the #WhenIBegan hashtag campaign page!

Watch the intro video below!

Consent is for Everyone

Let’s Talk About Consent…

So, I suppose we were always going to get to this post eventually, because consent is a major part of being part of a home, classroom, or community. It’s something really basic to being a person who interacts with other people.

This post is happening today, though, because the topic has become so utterly and painfully immediate that it clearly needs to be addressed; from the #MeToo movement, to accusations against numerous respected figures, to the Kavanaugh hearings… our own President has even mocked assaults against women. Our children and students hear these things on the radio and online, see them on TV, and know we’re talking about the issue. If we are, so are they, and that makes this an incredibly important time to have this conversation with them.

[RESOURCES FOR DISCUSSING CONSENT ARE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE!]

So, What Can I Do?

This is obviously a really serious and delicate issue, and we understand that it can be nerve wracking to think about bringing this stuff up, but evidence shows that beginning discussions about consent at a young age keeps kids safer, and eases the more mature conversations later on. Besides, there are lots of great tools that can help – the conversation is important, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating!

Before I start, let me explain that we at Collage Colorado are not therapists, and that these suggestions come from our combined years of experience teaching and parenting. You are welcome to disagree about anything we say here, and we welcome discussion! That only helps everybody keep everyone safer, and more respected.

REMEMBER! If you feel you or someone you know is being bullied or their consent is not being respected, tell a trusted adult.

First off, remember to talk to your kids at their level. This might seem obvious, but it’s worth remembering, because many educators’ and parents’ first fear in talking about consent is the belief that they’ll have to talk about “mature subjects”. You don’t! Not unless your students are ready, and if they are they’ll let you know (by asking questions, and because you likely already have a gauge on their maturity level to begin with). Start small… You can always add more detail later, as they need it.

Next, let your kids lead the conversation. Kids get consent at a basic level already. We all do; we all know when something doesn’t make us feel right, or makes us feel like our trust, our space, or our bodies, haven’t been respected. Once you’ve given kids a few prompts (ex. “How does it feel when somebody touches your hair when you don’t want it?”, “How do you feel when you don’t want a hug, and someone gives you one anyway?”), they will likely take off with it, which leads us to…

Now, on to making some agreements! Whether at school or at home, one very good way to reinforce the ideas that you and your kids or students have discussed is to write them down. Get a piece of paper or a board, and record 3-5 agreements about bodies, boundaries, and consent. Make sure your kids or students guide this step, too. Then have everyone (including you) sign the agreement.

After that, let kids ask questions. Really, this is true always, but for tough conversations like this, it’s especially important to check in one last time before the conversation is over. This makes sure there aren’t any hanging problems, misunderstandings, or uncertainties (at least as much as we can manage).

Finally, check in again later. Explicitly talking about consent should be a regular practice… when appropriate. It’s important to check in periodically to make sure that our kids still get it. It can take many times repeating a concept for kids to fully integrate it, and that goes for this concept, too. Making consent a regular check in also makes the conversation infinitely easier than having to have it as a reaction to something later. How often you check in is up to you, but whether parent, educator -whoever – make this conversation a habit.

Talking About The News

Talking about consent is a fantastic time to talk about what’s going on in the news, too, and vice versa, and all the same “rules” apply here, too. Talk about the Supreme Court hearings or #MeToo at your children’s level. And don’t worry about the details; ultimately, they matter far less that the overall concept, that all people have a right to determine what happens with their own bodies, and furthermore a right to stop others from violating or impeding that in any way.

Final Thoughts

Of course there’s so much more to consent than all of this, and the discussions each of us has will look different every time, depending on our kids, depending on what’s going on in the world, and so on. It’s important to know that for children of color, immigrants, and refugees here in the US, consent is an even more tenuous and potentially triggering topic; people’s race and religion can further change the impact of both the consequences and conversations around consent, and it’s our responsibility to be aware of this.

At the end of the day the most important thing is to keep talking. Destigmatizing conversations about consent make the world a safer and happier place for everybody.


Resources:

Although no resource is perfect, there are a few good tools that can help you to discuss consent with your kids or students (or colleagues!), including some fantastic videos.

  • “Consent for Kids” – This video talks about consent at the most basic level, and we believe it is appropriate for children starting around 6 years old.
  • “Consent: It’s as Simple as Tea” – This is consent for adults (and possibly teens). This video contains “bad” language, however it remains one of the best – and most concise – explanations of the importance of consent that you’re going to find. Our own Maníge Giles uses this video and the video above for her OWL classes; both are fantastic introductions to the idea.
  • “The Day You Begin”, by Jacqueline Woodson – This book is not actually about consent, but it is about racism and feeling othered, which is a major issue in addition to consent.

There are lots more resources out there, and you can be sure that as we find them, we’ll share them here on the blog, but in the meantime, if there are other good resources that you’ve found helpful, let us know in the comments!

Kicking Off Collage @ Odyssey School of Denver!

Happy Friday, Collage Fam! Today marks a very special day for us at Collage… today is the first day of student courses at Odyssey School of Denver! Keep an eye out here for details and more as the first course unfolds!

Heading Back to School!

The summer is almost over, and so it’s time to head back to school! A lot has happened in the world over the past few months – many events that have worn on our minds as parents, and possibly for our kids, too. That said, the prospect of getting back to the grind for our kids may be – while hopefully exciting – more than a little daunting, too.

Just as we change over the course of the school year, summers add new experiences, new friends, and lots to share and think about for the coming year. This can mean big changes, too, and that can be especially scary for kids nurturing marginalized identities, and that can be further compounded by things we and our kids have heard or experienced over the summer.

That said, there will be a lot coming soon here at Collage, both digitally and on the ground here in our home city of Denver. On the site, expect to see articles coming soon with strategies to discuss recent issues such as the imprisonment of migrant children. Locally, Collage will begin offering social awareness classes at Denver’s Odyssey School, set to start Friday, September 21st, 2018 (with a Parent Q&A the week before, on Friday, September 14th).

Click here for more details!

The Journey Begins

Welcome to Collage!

In my experience, the journey of life is all about intersections; intersecting spaces, intersecting people, intersecting ideas, intersecting identities. At it’s core, that last one is what Collage is all about: recognizing that all people are built of countless intersecting identities, each playing with and against the others in more ways than we may ever really realize.

Often times we recognize this on a subconscious level: we know that our best friend isn’t just some dude. Maybe he’s a white dude. Maybe he’s a white, cisgender dude. Maybe he’s white, cisgender man of French-Canadian ancestry. Maybe he’s a white, cisgender, ethnically French-Canadian man who is starting to explore a queer identity he’d never considered before. All of those pieces of him are significant, and all of them affect the way that the others are presented, the way he internalizes them, the way he shares them with the world. Over our lifetimes, with greater or lesser clarity and depth, we come to define ourselves and those around us through the lenses of these intersecting identities. We all do this, whether consciously or not.The same is true for our kids. Indeed, our kids are – as this blog and this venture – at the beginning that journey.

The beginning… It’s a scary place to be. Taking one’s first steps on such a big and significant path, not knowing where that path leads, not knowing what choices one might have to make along the way, or what consequences one might face for those choices. Worse, as much as we focus on our own paths, we are constantly reminded that others are watching our paths as well – and frequently have thoughts or judgments or critiques of our choices. Knowing this, while simultaneously not knowing the real immensity of the undertaking, is where our children find themselves. We as parents, or educators, or caregivers, we know this on some level, but we also tend to forget just how awfully difficult it can be. My own daughters, who are incredibly fierce, self-assured, and determined, are facing this right now.

I founded Collage as a service, a space, and a resource to help kids navigate the stress of intersecting identities in a way that allows them to explore their own complex web of identity safely and confidently: working with peers in a moderated environment where they are able to stretch their comfort zones and expand their self-awareness while still feeling centered and grounded. Giving children the language and tools to explore and express their intersecting identities ultimately helps them to become more successful academically, socially, and beyond.

The broad aim of Collage is building bridges of compassionate community, and so Collage’s approach is holistic: although our primary focus is to facilitate the growth of our youth, Collage also offers classes for parents as well as educators. Collage is not intended to replace school, or church, or parenting, but rather enhance all those spaces. Ultimately, we want to build a web of communit(y/ies) that support our youth in every facet of their growing identities.

So, thank you for joining us on this journey. Thank you for joining me. I hope walking your path illuminates mine; I hope walking my path illuminates yours.