The District Introduces Student-led SOGIE Cohort Academies


Photo by Sara Rampazzo on Unsplash

Malayna Chang, Opinion Editor

Logging onto Zoom on Monday, a tired student sits at home, ready for another Cohort Academy session. For the first time, the session is led by Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) students, who give a lesson on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression (SOGIE). In a prerecorded video, the student listens attentively as Miramonte junior Abby Wallach presents on issues pertaining to the LGBTQI+ community, exploring microaggressions, definitions, and other educational resources. 

Each lesson goes over important issues that are prevalent within the LGBTQI+ community. There were two sessions held during Cohort Academy and led by students from the various LGBTQI+ clubs and groups at each school in the district. The Miramonte student leaders are senior Ryan Gottschalk, president of the Miramonte Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA), and junior Abby Wallach, vice president of SAGA. 

The first SOGIE Cohort Academy session, held March 19, introduced basic definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity, focusing on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, and Intersex (LGBTQI+) communities. The sessions are intended to educate and inform all members of the district—staff and students—on the LGBTQI+ community and how to be an ally. 

 The second lesson, held March 26, went over microaggressions, homophobia, and what it means to be an ally. The sessions were structured so that students could interact with each other and discuss the information that was presented to them. Within the short prerecorded video, breaks were given, there were breaks given indicating when to go into breakout rooms on Zoom and discuss the things students heard and learned. It also included shocking statistics of violence against the LGBTQI+ community and the rise of hate crimes.

“We created these lessons to help provide students with a basic overview of some of the fundamental terminology we use to talk about the LGBTQ+ community and to explore some of the challenges and obstacles queer youth face at our school and in the world at large. We wanted to ensure every student had at least a baseline level of knowledge about sexual orientation, gender identity, and the LGBTQ+ community in order to help educate students about an important aspect of their own identity and the identities of others and in order to help facilitate new and productive conversations about and with the LGBTQ+ community at our schools,” Gottschalk said. 

The district partnered with the Rainbow Community Center, an organization that offers support and social opportunities to the LGBTQI+ community and its allies, to advise and mentor SAGA and the Miramonte faculty on the content of the presentations.

“The planning process of these lessons was an exciting challenge. As president of SAGA, I, along with SAGA vice president Abby Wallach, were in communication with the leadership of the other LGBTQ+ advocacy clubs in the district, district officials, and consultants from the Rainbow Community Center. We constantly collaborated with these different parties to craft our lessons and we believe that they were a distillation of our best ideas. We sincerely hope every student enjoyed them and found them to be a useful resource!” Gottschalk said.

The other groups involved in this project were the Acalanes Queer Student Alliance (QSA), Campolindo’s SAGA club, and the Las Lomas Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA).

Along with training and mentoring in LGBTQI+-related terminology and issues, the Rainbow Community Center (RCC) also offers community mental health services, a houseless transitional youth program, a Kind Hearts Food Pantry, Youth and Older Adult Programs, HIV Education and Prevention Programs, and professional development and training. The Rainbow Community Center was a key part of the planning process for the Cohort Academy SOGIE lessons.

“The RCC mainly advised us on content, on specifics, and how we wanted to approach the lessons. They were the ones who suggested using the acronym SOGIE rather than LGBTQ+, which ended up making it into the final lesson. They also helped during the teacher training sessions, which the students weren’t involved in,” Wallach said. 

“The goal of the cohort lessons is to provide both teachers and students with a minimum level of knowledge about LGBTQI+ terms and issues so that everyone can be a good and thoughtful ally, whether or not they’re LGBTQI+ themselves,” Wallach said.

A lot of the information presented during these sessions is shocking or surprising, but many students feel that it was handled in an effective way. “The SOGIE lessons did an amazing job of raising awareness to the non-mainstream parts of the LGBTQ community. I feel like the shock factor from the statistics was extremely helpful in bringing everything together,” junior Ink Chavanapanit said.

In a breakout room on Zoom, a student has a meaningful conversation about what it means to be an ally of the LGBTQI+ community and shares their experiences of friends and family coming out to them. When the student returns to the main Zoom room, they’re greeted by the informative recording of Wallach and Gottschalk, who continue their presentation on SOGIE and the LGBTQI+ community. After the session ends, the student feels a lot more comfortable and confident with the topic now that they have heard all about it from their peers.