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How A North Side School Changed Its Curriculum To Create A More Inclusive Environment

Bell Elementary students spent a year discussing different identities leading up to their own Pride parade. “We want all students to feel a sense of belonging and representation in our community,” a counselor said.

Bell Elementary students hold the Pride banner they created for the parade on May 31, 2022.
Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
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NORTH CENTER — Students, teachers and parents at a North Side school held their own parade in honor of Pride Month this week, the culmination of a year-long effort to teach students about inclusivity and identity.

Alexander Graham Bell Elementary School, 3730 N. Oakley Ave., expanded its curriculum this year to include social and emotional learning centered around the school’s mission statement: celebrating diversity, promoting honest conversations around inequity and bias, and upholding antiracist ideas and policies.

Counselors Katie Moran and Erin DuBose designed and led the program, helping teachers give presentations on family, gender, race and culture, ability, spirituality and the neighborhood, Moran said. 

School-wide lessons also included presentations around Black Lives Matter and International Pronouns Day, Moran said. 

“We want all students to feel a sense of belonging and representation in our community,” Moran said. 

Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
Bell Elementary students hold the Pride banner they created for the parade on May 31, 2022.

Bell serves more than 900 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. The lessons were tailored to ages and grades.

Teachers with younger students had kids trace their hands on paper, cut them out and then use crayons closest to their own skin tone as a jumping off point to discussions around race and culture, Moran said. 

“And so each of those lessons differs as you get older. And then we have the more complex conversations at the higher grades, where we are talking about things like Black Lives Matter. ‘How did that even begin and why is it important to us?’” Moran said. 

Principal Kathleen Miller used COVID-19 relief funds to add DuBose as second counselor this year, helping make the programming possible, art teacher Shana Pearlmutter said.

“That changed everything because then they were able to create a whole curriculum that goes into the classrooms,” Pearlmutter said. “They’re woven into the culture of the school and that matters.”

The yearlong curriculum also helped foster trust between students and counselors because they were interacting during fun activities the students liked, Moran said. 

“It allows the students to see we’re not just these beings in the building that when you have a moment where you’re not at your best you now have to go open up to a stranger,” Moran said. “Instead they see us as part of their community and someone they can go to they know and trust.” 

To commemorate their year of learning, students from each classroom marched around the school Tuesday afternoon, holding banners they created with the LGBTQ rainbow’s colors alongside other symbols and phrases that celebrate the students’ interests and identities. 

Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
Bell Elementary students hold the Pride banner they created for the parade on May 31, 2022.

One banner, for example, had American Sign Language and drawings of cochlear implants forming a heart in acknowledgement of students who are deaf or hearing impaired. The school has students, families and staff that fall under the LGBTQ umbrella and the parade is another way to make everyone feel supported, Pearlmutter said.

A D.J. played music from an outdoor P.A. system and parents waved as their children walked by.  

“I had chills and tears in my eyes because I’ve had relatives who struggled coming out and have had many students come out to me,” Pearlmutter said. “There’s no doubt that Kate and Erin are changing and saving lives because children struggle with their mental health when they’re not being seen fully and authentically at a young age.”

Making sure students are given a holistic education that helps them build empathy among their peers and confidence in themselves is just as important as math and reading skills, Miller said.

“It helps our students understand how to not only manage their own emotions but how to recognize that in others, building that empathy and learning how to communicate with each other,” Miller said. “Really, that relationship building and the ability to make connections with other people is a life skill that really we want every child to leave this building with.”

“I just think it’s important for the kids to have pride in where they’re going, in themselves and all that good stuff,” parent Iris Lagahit said. “My son is in the special education program and building his confidence, his pride in himself, that’s all so important. Bell is so inclusive of that and kids accepting themselves for who they are.”

Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
Bell Elementary students hold the Pride banner they created for the parade on May 31, 2022.

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Subscribe to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation. 

Thanks for subscribing to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods. Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.

Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: