GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — ECU’s College of Education and the Dr. Jesse R. Peel LGBTQ Center are partnering to offer Safe Zone training for K-12 educators, administrators, counselors, parents, and future teachers. The hope is the training will provide the tools and skills needed for an inclusive learning environment.

Safe Zone Training K-12 is an opportunity for those in educational fields to talk, learn and ask questions about sexuality and gender in a non-judgemental, supportive, educational environment that they can take back to the classroom. They will be working to make sure learning environments are safe, welcoming and inclusive spaces for all students.

“We landed on the fact that we could adapt our Safe Zone Program, which is at ECU for faculty and staff, we could adapt that for K-12 educators with some modifications we could do that,” says Director for the Dr. Jesse R. Peel LGBTQ Center at ECU, Mark Rasdorf. “We launched the program in November of 2019 and we were overwhelmed that we had 60 people sign up for the first Safe Zone for K-12 educators.”

Research clearly documents that LGBTQ youth are at 3-4 times the risk for anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide. It’s estimated that 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.

“We’ve had educators come from Wake County, we had one teacher come from West Virginia. She was a dance teacher who had a transgender student in her class, and she wanted to be sure she was doing the right things.” Rasdorf said.

“The people that come, they want to be there, and they want to do better, but sometimes they feel like ‘I don’t know all the vocabulary, I don’t know all the words, I don’t know the terms,’ and then we try to give them little hints and clues and ideas of what does it mean to have an inclusive curriculum? What does it mean to have an inclusive classroom?”

Organizers say the Safe Zone program’s combined efforts to create a supportive learning environment for all students will aid in retention, reduce risk factors, and encourage continued educational development beyond high school. They hope the training will be helpful and serve as a starting point in maximizing the learning environment for all students.

“As teachers, educators, we’re all responsible for making school spaces safe and affirming for students and this is just one more way to do that. Our LGBTQ student population and their families deserve to be affirmed and part of the community. So it is our job as educators to make those spaces safe and affirming so that they can feel comfortable and learn.”

Dr. Elizabeth Swaggerty, ECU College of Education – Interim Chair of the Department of Literacy Studies, English Education, and History Education

The training will take place Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm. The $5 registration fee covers lunch, parking and training. General CEUs (0.40) for educators will be issued at the completion of the workshop.

The registration deadline was on September 6. Be on the lookout for the next Safe Zone Training workshop on the Dr. Jesse R. Peel LGBTQ Center website.