Welcoming Schools

Welcoming Schools is an SEL program in Austin ISD that asks teachers to do Human Sexuality Instruction for 4, 5, and 6 year old students.

“Welcoming Schools, which is a project of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, offers lessons, resources, and other tools for educators and parents on topics related to family diversity, avoiding gender stereotyping and affirming gender, and ending bullying.” https://humaneeducation.org/resources/welcoming-schools/

“In 2004, Greater Boston PFLAG, lead by Pam Garramone, called together a group of community members, including an elementary school principal, a social worker, teachers, same-sex parents, safe school trainers and a social-emotional program consultant to examine how LGBTQ topics affected elementary students.

Simultaneously, in 2005, the Human Rights Campaign, at the time focused primarily on political lobbying, realized that the organization also needed a public education and outreach component to increase understanding of LGBTQ people and the importance of LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices; this became the HRC Foundation.

Ellen Kahn, while working to build the HRC Foundation’s Children, Youth, and Families program, was eager to develop a program to help elementary schools support children with LGBTQ parents. Ellen organized a meeting of experts from across the country, including Kathy Pillsbury, who was part of the Boston group leading Welcoming Schools. It quickly became clear that Welcoming Schools would be a perfect addition to the program. In 2006, the volunteers who developed Welcoming Schools transferred ownership from Greater Boston PFLAG and GLSEN Boston to the HRC Foundation.

The HRC Welcoming Schools team of staff and training consultants, lead by Kim Westheimer, provided trainings to schools and districts from 2006 to 2014. During this time, HRC Welcoming Schools developed partnerships with national, regional and local education and safe school organizations and created a website to make resources accessible to elementary schools, educators and parents across the country.

In 2015, under the direction of Johanna Eager, HRC Welcoming Schools hosted its inaugural Facilitator Certification Program, bringing together 30 community members, advocates and educators from across the country to be prepared to bring HRC’s Welcoming Schools back to their schools and communities. The facilitators spent three days at HRC headquarters in Washington, D.C to learn to provide elementary schools and districts with professional development on the HRC Welcoming Schools approach to foster an LGBTQ- and gender-inclusive school climate so that all children can thrive.” http://www.welcomingschools.org/our-program/history/

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Welcoming Schools Staff

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Ellen Kahn
Director, Children Youth and Families Program

Since 2005, Ellen Kahn has served as Director of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Children, Youth & Families Program. In this role, Ellen provides national leadership and expertise in public education and advocacy efforts to achieve full inclusion and equality for LGBTQ youth and families. Under Ellen’s leadership, HRC Foundation launched three highly successful, innovative programs that promote fair and inclusive policies and practices –– All Children—All Families, Welcoming Schools, and Youth Well-Being, anchored by the annual Time to THRIVE conference to support LGBTQ youth.

Prior to joining HRC, Ellen spent 12 years at Whitman-Walker Health in various roles, including Director of the Lesbian Services Program, Associate Director of LGBT Health Promotion and supervisor of a behavioral health program for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Ellen currently serves as President of the Board of Directors of Rainbow Families DC, the capital area’s support and education organization for LGBTQ-headed families. She has helped to develop and facilitate “Maybe Baby” classes for prospective LGBTQ parents for 16 years! Ellen earned her B.S. from Temple University and her M.S.S. from the Bryn Mawr College School of Social Work and Social Research. Ellen is the proud mom of two fabulous daughters and lives in Silver Spring, Md.

Johanna Eager
Director, HRC Welcoming Schools

Johanna Eager has been involved with equity issues in E/K-12 education for over 20 years as a professional educator. Johanna provides leadership and expertise in addressing identity-based bullying in schools with an emphasis on intersectionality, gender and LGBTQ-inclusivity. Johanna started with HRC Welcoming Schools as the Regional Consultant for the Upper Midwest in 2011.

Prior to joining HRC Welcoming Schools, Johanna worked as a high-school teacher and administrator in public education. Johanna’s areas of expertise include the following: E-12 equity and social justice professional development, equity organizational change initiatives, intercultural communications (Qualified Administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory), anti-racism and white privilege education and fostering LGBTQ-inclusive schools that respect the complexity of gender.

Johanna’s mind and heart are hardwired to work toward equity and social justice, in particular, for all youth, families and staff in E-12 schools. Johanna will forever consider weeknights “school nights” and will get to bed early in order to be ready for “school” the next day!

Cheryl Greene
Deputy Director Welcoming Schools
Facilitator Certification Program Manager

Cheryl Greene has spent her career in education and is passionate about making school a place where all children can thrive. In her current role at Welcoming Schools, she manages the Facilitator Certification Program, which trains and equips outstanding facilitators across the country to provide professional development, support and resources aimed at making elementary schools welcoming for all students and families.

Cheryl was a teacher and school leader for over two decades before joining Welcoming Schools. During that time, it became clear to her that until students feel safe, respected and valued, very little learning occurs.

In addition to her work with Welcoming Schools, Cheryl is a nationally certified Olweus Bullying Prevention Specialist and is the Program Coordinator/Adjunct Professor for Hamline University’s Graduate Bullying Prevention Certificate Program.

Cheryl is married to an amazing woman and together they have four wonderful children.

Charles Girard
Coordinator, HRC Welcoming Schools

Charles Girard began working with queer justice in college as a founder of the University of Mary Washington’s Gender-Neutral Housing initiative. He served as Vice President of his college’s queer student group PRISM, and was the recipient of UMW’s 2012 Citizenship Award for Diversity Leadership Scholarship. After graduating with a degree in American Studies, concentrating in gender and sexuality, he joined the AmeriCorps program City Year, serving for a year as a tutor, mentor and role model to third graders in an under-served elementary school in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 8.

Charles was a runner up in HRC’s 2010 Generation Equality scholarship for campus activism, interned with the Youth and Campus department in 2012 and began his current position on the HRC Welcoming Schools team in 2014.

Charles enjoys riding his bike through D.C. and snuggling his two pet rabbits Linus and Waffles.

Tarah Fleming, M.A. Ed., CPC
Our Family Coalition Partner
Welcoming Schools Expert Trainer

Tarah has over 25 years of experience internationally, and locally as an educator and facilitator on issues of social justice, equity and inclusion, anti-bias education and the dynamics of power and privilege. Her strong desire to work as a change agent and ally in multiple solidarity movements led her to Our Family Coalition where she is now the Education Director working with LGBTQ families. For the last 13 years she has been a dedicated participant and presenter at the White Privilege Conference. She developed and co-directed the Youth Action Project (YAP) for high school students, which is currently in its eighth year of success at the White Privilege Conference today. Tarah also directs her consulting and coaching practice called Start Dialog where she provides personal and professional coaching for educators and activists, as well as facilitated dialog and training for real systems change.

Michele Hatchell
Welcoming Schools Expert Trainer

Michele Hatchell has been a public school elementary art teacher for over twenty years in Chicago and Madison, WI. For the past five years, Michele has and continues to serve as a Welcoming Schools-Gender Spectrum teacher and staff trainer for the Madison Metropolitan School District. She has provided guidance and expertise throughout Wisconsin to schools, universities and hospitals on best practices to create welcoming and safe spaces for people of all gender identities. She is also a professional artist and has created individual and public art with folks of all ages in communities, schools, museums and college campuses. In 2014, her elementary students challenged Lego to be more gender and culturally inclusive with their belief that Different Is Perfect. She believes strongly that the Welcoming Schools approach can successfully create schools where students and staff work together to include others, celebrate differences and cultivate ally behaviors for the benefit of all.

Kathy Pillsbury
Welcoming Schools Consultant

Kathy Pillsbury was one of the founders of Welcoming Schools and continues to be an active consultant for the project. When her children, who are now 24 and 18, first started school, Kathy became active in her children’s school community. At the same time, she began actively researching materials to help her children’s teachers understand their family and help her children thrive and feel safe at school. Kathy served on the Board of GLSEN Boston for many years before the development of Welcoming Schools.

Prior to her work with HRC Welcoming Schools, Kathy was a financial director and project manager for non-profit organizations. She oversaw budget and cash flow management, direct-mail and telemarketing campaigns, strategic research projects and produced educational campaign materials including the Academy Award winning film, Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons and Our Environment. Kathy earned her B.A. from Goddard College and her MBA from the Yale School of Management.

Rick Oculto
Our Family Coalition Partner

Rick is currently the Education Coordinator at Our Family Coalition. Formerly the Youth Services Coordinator at Billy DeFrank LGBT Center in San José, CA, Rick developed programs that addressed LGBT youth issues and created the first transgender youth support group in the area. Rick has conducted trainings for hundreds of students, educators, and youth workers focusing on diversity, harassment, gender stereotypes, and other LGBT issues. He holds a dual B.A. degree in Psychology and Spanish from Seattle University and a M.S.W. at UC Berkeley specializing in management and planning. He is the board chair of Streetside Stories, a youth-focused, media arts literacy organization in San Francisco and coordinates volunteer events for SF Gaymers, a social group that recognizes diversity within the gaming community and creates safe gaming spaces for LGBT people. Rick lives and games in San Francisco and frequently visits his family in the South Bay.