Gay-Straight Alliance club debuts at EHS

By on September 25, 2013

By:

ANDY FASNACHT Review Correspondent

, Staff Writer

For the first time ever, a new club at Ephrata High School will seek to build greater understanding and provide support for students who experience same sex attraction.

The Ephrata Area School Board approved the formation of the Gay-Straight Alliance Club as part of its consent agenda at Monday night’s school board meeting.

According the high school principal Joane Eby, the group was formed at the request and initiative of students. The group’s advisor will be Jesse Reider, EHS Physical Education Instructor, Weight Room Coordinator and Wellness Supervisor.

With the group having just been approved to form, it is uncertain how many students are expected to join. In addition, there has yet to be any reaction from parents on the group.

As with all clubs and activities, the group will meet after 3:10 p.m.

Eby declined to say how many EHS students identify themselves as gay or bi-sexual and said it is not something the school tracks. She was, however, sympathetic with the fact that nationally teens who experience same sex attraction show a high depression and suicide rate.

"Our anti-bullying program works with all types of bullying, which would include this area as well," said Eby, of the environment at EHS surrounding this sensitive issue. "This club is another outlet that will help maintain and improve a safe, secure environment for all."

As stated in the school board agenda, GSA is "formed to create a positive environment that encourages the respect of students as they are, regardless of lifestyle or sexual orientation, and to combat prejudice against gay people in the school and school district. "

The club intends to have both gay and straight students who will work together to enhance the respect of the human being. It will work to create safe environments in schools for students to support each other and fight discrimination, harassment and violence in schools.

"Their central goal is help maintain and improve a safe, secure environment for all," emphasized Eby. "Activities include community service projects, as well as providing an avenue to help each other overcome obstacles."

The motion to create the new club was passed without discussion as part of the school board’s consent agenda at Monday night’s school board meeting.

"GSA groups can be a constructive group within the school to forward the understanding and respect of others," added Eby. "Our society is increasingly diverse in all ways and it is essential that our students are able to interact with each other with respect."

For additional information on GSA, visit gsanetwork.org.

In other activity during Monday night’s school board meeting:

Comprehensive plan

"This has been a worthwhile process," says EASD Superintendent Dr. Brian Troop of a recently completed district-wide comprehensive plan.

All districts state-wide are currently required to develop and file such a plan with the Pennsylvania Department of Education (or PDE). But as Troop pointed out to members of the Ephrata board Monday night, this was a process already underway at the district.

The purpose of the process, which used to be referred to as strategic planning, is to design and develop a single streamlined, yet systematic, plan for district and school level improvement. Troop pointed out that while the state was mandating such planning as a tool to evaluate school effectiveness, the local district was already doing many of the things being required.

One such example is the district-wide program for each building to evaluate its strengths, as well as its needs, and then develop planning accordingly. Troop says that what makes this comprehensive plan so strong is the fact this pulls together the building-specific work into the broader, district-wide plan.

Troop cited the collective work of a committee, which was comprised of educators, administrators from each building, parents, business leaders and community members all coming together to work through the framework of a plan provided by the state to develop one unique to the district. That group began meeting in December, 2012.

And the outcome is the establishment of two specific goals along with strategies for how to accomplish those goals.

The group reviewed a number of possible goals which could be adopted as part of the plan, whittling them down to four. From that list of four emerged the two which were ultimately selected.

The first goal is to "Establish a district system that fully ensures the school partners with families and the community to sustain a positive school climate in which students engage in the learning process."

Troop outlined several strategies which are aimed at accomplishing that goal. They include developing family literacy activities, substantial professional development, improving parent access to online information, emphasizing parent and staff participation in community-school events and improving a preventive system to increase student attendance.

Gangi Cucciuffo is the principal at Ephrata Middle School. He took an active role in the process and addressed the school board on the second goal.

"Our second goal is to establish a district system that fully ensures barrier to student learning are addressed in order to increase student achievement and graduation rates," said Cucciuffo.

Cucciuffo outlined the broad strategies associated with achieving the second goal. They include expanding dropout prevention, online learning opportunities, social and emotional wellness programs, career pathways as well as increasing quality instructional time.

The administrators cited new efforts to improve attendance and curb the dropout rate. While EASD enjoys a higher graduation rate than several other districts in the county, Troop said that so long as any students are dropping out there is work to be done. And those efforts, which used to be more prevalent at the secondary level, are now being looked at in the elementary levels.

"In light of elementary students not coming to school as much, are there factors which lead up to that," questioned school board member Glenn R. Martin.

Troop said that since the pattern has been more gradual, no actual system was in place at the elementary level to deal with absenteeism. He said that kindergarten and first grade tends to be very well attended but drops off slightly as a class proceeds through the system.

"Up until now we did not feel we needed a program in place," said Troop. "It’s not that we are facing a crises but it is an area for us to consider if we are to be a more effective school system."

School board members questioned the administration on the efforts to get more families to come to school events when at the same time, due to security concerns, parents have to jump through significantly more hoops to even be allowed to volunteer on campus. Those efforts include tests for tuberculosis, as well as finger printing and an FBI background check, all at parent cost of approximately $49.

Assistant Superintendent Richard Hornberger was sympathetic to the challenge.

"We are trying to find creative ways and gain creative inputs on this," said Hornberger. "We likewise have a number of hoops to jump through in order to make this happen."

The comprehensive plan has been advertised in the paper and submitted to review for the public prior to approval. The final plan will be submitted for a vote to approve it in October so that it can be on file with the state by the end of November.

Ironically, Troop said that with changes to Chapter 4 state regulations, such plans will no longer be required. However, he added, this has been a valuable process for the district and something effective districts should already be doing.

For additional information on Ephrata Area School District, visit easdpa.org. Gary P. Klinger welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions via e-mail at klingerglobal@gmail.com.

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