We Can Affirm AND Challenge Young People

By Liz Thorne

A recent article in the Atlantic explored gender and the intersections of adolescent development, medical care, and parenting. Through the experiences of young people, trans and gender non-conforming folks, families and researchers, the article explores the central question of how to balance providing young people the support (from family support and mental health services to puberty-blocking drugs, hormones and/or surgery) they need while keeping in mind that adolescence is a time of identity exploration, and there is a diverse spectrum of gender identities beyond cis and trans- over 50 different identities are listed on Facebook. The article has received criticism from some readers, often those in the trans/gender non-conforming community for the focus on people who “desist” or “detransition”. Needless to say, there are so many layers to unpack in this issue, but setting that aside for a moment, I want to bring forward the pieces I found poignant as a cisgender female, heterosexual, White parent and professional working in adolescent and school health.

One thing that stood out to me in the article was the central tension between fully affirming and accepting young people’s (whether it is your child, student, or patient) identity with the pacing of young people making medical decisions that impact them for the rest of their lives. From the perspective of a parent, I fully understand wanting to give your kids all of the resources they need to be successful. I also recognize the experiences of trans and gender non-conforming folks in the medical community, and moving away from any sort of gatekeeping or putting in place hoops to jump through in order to get care.  Youth development practices came to mind while I was reading this article, particularly the tenants of Developmental Relationships, a framework created by the Search Institute’s research in what makes relationships powerful for young people. The elements are:

-       Express care

-       Challenge growth

-       Provide support

-       Share power

-       Expand possibilities

Developmental relationships not only express care and provide support, but they challenge growth. We need both. Mental health, influences of peers and social groups and societal and cultural norms all contribute to the development of gender identity, and all of these layers need to be interrogated by young people as they figure out who they are. However, that nuanced and critical analysis of themselves and their culture by young people needs to happen in an environment where they are affirmed and supported.

A well-trained team of providers working in partnership with youth and families will lead to better outcomes.

Sharing power, particularly with regard to the medical community for trans and gender non-conforming young people is paramount. A well-trained team of providers working in partnership with youth and families will lead to better outcomes. Finally, expanding the possibilities for young people as they explore their identities, to me, is to continually challenge stereotypical gender norms and roles. This is something we talk about a lot in our family. Case in point- my 2 year old son loves to wear his big sister’s dresses. It is fascinating to see how this one clothing choice changes the way the world interacts with him. Yet, when he plays loud and rough he is “all boy”. We constantly challenge those gender stereotypes as they come up (which is almost everyday). Boys can wear dresses. Girls can have short hair. Boys can play with baby dolls. Girls can be loud and climb things.

Whether you like or dislike the Atlantic article as written, one thing that I think even critics can agree with is that the foundation of any healthy identity development must be affirmation, love and support.  It stood out to me that many of the young people in the article were surrounded by affirming and supportive parents and had the means and ability to access medical professionals who also affirmed their identity. This is not the case for many young people in this country. We all can do our part to create a more affirming and loving society- in our homes, communities and institutions. Below are lists some actions I came up with, and would love to hear others from anyone reading this as well!

-       Support statewide policies that make access to medical services for trans and gender-non-confirming youth available and affordable.

-       Make sure your state department of education and school district has a non-discrimination and student rights policy that includes trans and gender-nonconforming students as a part of Title IX, as Federal guidance on the issue was rolled back by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

-       Support your school to have an all-user bathroom and policies that allow students to use the locker room that aligns with their gender identity.

-       Call students by their preferred pronouns. Let them wear clothing that makes them feel good.

-       Ensure comprehensive sexuality education includes information and skill building around respect for people with different gender identities.

-       Bring voices from the trans/gender non-conforming community into your classroom. Engage your school’s Queer Straight Alliance (QSA) and reach out to organizations run by and for folks in the trans and gender non-conforming community.

-       Challenge stereotypical gender norms and tell the young people in your life you love them, for who they are, daily.

-       Support and donate to organizations in your community that serve trans and gender non-conforming youth and families.

 

Resources:

-       The Trevor Project https://www.thetrevorproject.org/

-       Human Rights Campaign, Welcoming Schools professional development program. http://www.welcomingschools.org/

-       Trans/Gender Non-Conforming Justice Project http://www.thetaskforce.org/current_action/transgender-non-conforming-justice-project/

Happy Holidays from the Cairn Guidance Team!

It's been a huge year for the Cairn Guidance team! Below are our personal thoughts on the year, including the organizations/people we hold dear and hope you look them up, follow and support!

From Samantha:
2017 has been a year of growth, both personally and professionally. Travels have sent me across the United States allowing me to become comfortable and confident in traveling alone, while also making me miss a place I was dying to leave a year ago (something I never thought would happen). 2017 has been a year of change, in some aspects it has been terrifying in other aspects it has been terrifying, but with a dash of excitement. So overall, terrifying, but in an enjoyable kinda way. I have felt overwhelmed with acceptance into a company and I am excited to how it will continue to grow within the upcoming years. I am grateful to be able to work with such amazing ladies, and I am super excited to welcome our new team member! I am forever grateful for my first ”adult” position and the ability to influence change. 

From Liz:
Let’s be honest, 2017 was kind of a doozy. But when I reflect back on 2017, I have nothing but gratitude for the people I have gotten to meet and work with. Whether it was school district staff working to improve systems around suicide prevention, health educators helping their students become more body confident, or school nurses finding their strategic vision, over and over again I was reminded of the passion, tenacity and heart of folks working in this field. For me, 2017 has only clarified the need for our work, and strengthened my resolve to be an advocate working side by side with all of the educators, non-profits, and state agencies to to help our young people reach their full potential. This year, I’m supporting the following organizations that embody this many times over.
Women’s Foundation of Oregon
Momentum Alliance
Planned Parenthood of the Columbia Willamette

From Antionette:
Who knew my 2017 would end like this!  I am working with an amazing group of people in a professional life that allows me to experience facilitating professional development and coordinate a cadre of very talented, dedicated individuals.  I am excited about these opportunities and am looking forward to the adventures 2018 holds. There is so much to be done. We have a tremendous responsibility to provide positive, life impacting experiences for our youth.  If we do not have our health and feel safe and loved, so much else is questionable.  Our youth deserve to live the healthiest, happiest lives we can give them and we have to give them the best.
I continue to hold the mission and efforts of the Children’s Home Society close to my heart.

From Jess:
2017 has been our biggest year since Cairn Guidance opened it's doors over ten years ago. Biggest in terms of revenue, staff growth, number of clients and projects. It also meant time on the road. That means our team leaves home, families, dogs and travels for work. Not an easy task. Something we all balance with our love for travel and love for our work, but still takes a toll. I appreciate our small but mighty team and wake up everyday thankful for the work I get to do to create healthier lives! I decided to support the following friends that are running for Governorship and Congress, one a Muslim public health leader and the other, a woman. Not just amazing human beings, but minorities from a political leadership perspective. Something I embrace and value so that all Americans are represented and heard.
David Ermold running locally in my town for County Clerk to mis-seat Kim Davis!
Abdul El Sayed for Governor of Michigan
Haley Stevens for Congress (Michigan)

Urban School Wellness Coalition

This week, Jamie Sparks and I co-facilitated two sessions of the Urban School Wellness Coalition convened by Action for Healthy Kids. This Coalition, comprised of thirty large urban districts came together in Denver to network, share stories, gain knowledge around Wellness Policies, the WellSATEvery Students Succeed Act (ESSA), Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) and observe WSCC in action at a local school!

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Jamie and I spent about 90 minutes Tuesday afternoon on ESSA. We introduced the federal legislation, including key Titles for those unfamiliar with it, shared Cairn Guidance's State ESSA Analysis, and allowed district participants time to review their states' analysis to determine opportunities and challenges within their districts as they move ahead. Yesterday, we spent the morning on WSCC- introducing the framework, sharing effective practices around the school health approach, systems thinking; systems changing, creating buy-in and addressing resistance and brought participants through a variety of engaging activities in order for districts to essentially begin to see how ESSA and WSCC, advocacy, support, implementation are feasible and achievable at home!

We created and share our ESSA/WSCC Symbaloo page- a page that showcases the most current, helpful resources in the school health field. Feel free to share with your colleagues.

We were honored to have the chance to network, socialize, share, train education leaders around the country this week- what a fabulous group truly dedicated to shifting the norms of how we define school success in the United States. 

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Since 2013, the Urban School Wellness Coalition brings together urban district health and wellness leaders to facilitate discussion around mutually important issues, provide opportunities to share information, network with peers, coordinate joint efforts, and inform urban educational leaders on the importance of student health as a driver of academic success.
— Action for Healthy Kids

Making School the Heartbeat of the Community

By Liz Thorne, VP of Policy and Programs

I had been anticipating the grand opening of Faubion K-8 School, in Portland Oregon, this Fall for both personal and professional reasons. Most importantly, it is our neighborhood school. My daughter will be starting kindergarten there next year. As someone who works in school health and public health, the opening of Faubion also embodies so many of the practices we know are effective in supporting the health and academic achievement of young people.

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A bit of background. Faubion is physically located right next to Concordia University, a private liberal arts college. Concordia has a school of education, and for years they have partnered with Faubion to provide student-teachers with experience in the classroom.

Out of this partnership grew 3 to PhD. The first of it’s kind in the nation, the model aims to create safer, healthier and more educated communities from early learning through Pursuing one’s Highest Dreams (PhD).  In 2012 a Portland Public School bond was approved that included a rebuild of Faubion because of the strong partnership with Concordia and the 3 to PhD program.

 

The new Faubion + Concordia building houses Faubion K-8 classrooms and Concordia’s school of education. It includes:

  • An early childhood education center for up to 120 children,
  • A 2,500 square foot Kaiser Permanente 3 to PhD Wellness center serving Faubion students and Concordia students;
  • Wraparound mental and behavioral health services by Trillium Family Services;
  • And a food club with healthy, organic foods by basics.

At the grand opening I heard District, City and State leaders and parents stand up at the podium and speak about the importance of health for students to succeed. I heard them say that if we are to close the achievement gap we need to address the needs of the student, family, and community. This is returning the school as the heartbeat of the community.

Partnership. Addressing the needs of the whole child. Involving community partners (parents, business, higher education, health care providers). Preparing the new generation of educators and education leaders to look beyond curriculum and teaching strategies to educate our young people. These are things experts in school health consistently site as the factors that lead to institutionalizing health in education.

So while the new building is truly amazing (the playground! It has a zip line!) it’s these other factors that inspire and excite me, as a professional, parent, and community member.

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What Last Week's Election Means to Our Work

Liz Thorne is new to Cairn Guidance as the VP of Policy and Programs. She will be regularly posting on this blog.

I started writing my introductory post many times over the last several weeks. Then, after last Tuesday, I had to start over. Don’t worry—this isn’t another politically charged exposition that has been flooding your inbox and social media feed. But it would be disingenuous of me to ignore the fact that a lot of folks across this country are worried about what the future might hold for them and their families, as evidenced by the increase in calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and other crisis lines around the country after the election. But this week has also crystalized the importance of our work at Cairn Guidance, and why I am so honored to join Jess and Samantha in the mission of creating healthy school environments where students, staff and communities can reach their full potential. I keep coming back to the following actions:

We need to focus on systems change strategies so all youth can reach their full potential. In public health, we talk a lot about the social determinants of health.  The ways in which social forces, like trauma and systemic racism,  “get under our skin” to create disparities in health and other outcomes (like graduation rates, suspension and expulsion, incarceration, etc.).  The American Public Health Association has been leading a national conversation on ways to dismantle systemic racism. We have to put it on the agenda; identify how the system (policies, procedures, etc) impact populations; and facilitate the conversation to address the problems and move forward. Cairn Guidance has been a leader in facilitating the Systems Thinking, Systems Changing™ and supporting communities to work through the systems change process.

Relationships matter. We know from youth development science that having a connection to a supportive adult can help buffer youth against risk and is associated with better health and better education outcomes. This can be a parent, mentor, coach, teacher or community member. We need to equip teachers and school staff with the resources, skills and supports to create school environments that show every student matters.

Building soft skills. Critical thinking. Empathy. Communication. Working in a team. Seeing both sides of an issue. Typically referred to as soft skills, these are the critical skills young people need for employment, but also engagement as citizens. You see it in schools as students advocating for school policy change based on an experiential learning opportunity like action research; involvement in mentorship programs or community service; or learning to negotiate condom use in health education. These are the skills necessary to build an engaged and aware citizenry.

I know there will be challenges, but I also know that there is amazing work being done across the country. I am thrilled to support and elevate that in my role at Cairn Guidance.

Cairn Guidance Work Updates

We have just been notified that we will be presenting two sessions in Bend Oregon at the School Employee Wellness Conference in March for OEA Choice TrustJess will share her information on creating sustainable staff wellness programs as well as moderate a panel of school health champions sharing they staff wellness success stories. 

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Howard L. Bost Health Policy Forum

The 2015 Bost Health Policy Forum hosted by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky kicked off with a welcome from Kentucky's Lieutenant Governor Crit Luallen. She reinforced the importance of economic vitality, livability and strong communities related to the health of Kentuckians. We heard from a variety of health advocates on topics including education, the built environment, worksite wellness and food systems from Andrew Dannenberg from the University of Washington, Vera Oziransky from the Vitality InstituteMary Gwen Wheeler from 55000 Degrees, and Margo Wootan from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

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Cairn Guidance Update!

As 2015 gets its groove on, Cairn Guidance is becoming increasingly busy again after a nice respite during the holidays. Our focus is to continue to develop, revise and implement programs, practices and policies to increase our reach of healthy youth and staff, build sustainable partnerships, diversify our client-base and work, increase our advocacy efforts, model health ourselves and continue to thoroughly enjoy work!

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No more cupcakes for birthday parties?

What do you mean I can't task a student do laps around the track when he/she misbehaves?
I can't hold my annual cookie dough fundraiser for our football and band uniforms?
What do you mean I can't take away recess when a student hasn't completed their work?

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Kentucky Association for Health, PE Recreation and Dance (KAHPERD)

For years, I've attended the Oregon chapter of this same organization. It's the professional organization for educators and faculty in school health education, physical education, recreation and dance. It was my first year attending the KAHPERD conference and I was impressed. Sunday kicked off with a free pre-training (about 60 in attendance!) on the Presidential Youth Fitness Program. It is a free program developed to ensure what happens before, during and after the fitness assessment is beneficial for students and teachers and leads to youth who are active for life. 

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