For the first time ever, during the 2016-17 school year, an LGBT educational organization will lead sessions for teachers at Tel Aviv preschools and elementary schools.
Up until now, the organization, an NGO called Hoshen, has only worked with pupils and educators at local junior high and high schools – with the support of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality. At a meeting on Monday, Shirli Rimon-Bracha, director of the city's education administration, told Hoshen staff that the city has decided to expand its subsidies for the organization’s activities to include teachers at preschools and elementary schools.
In middle schools and high schools, Hoshen works directly with students, but in the lower grades and preschools, training will only be given to teachers and guidance counselors. The program includes a lecture on gender issues and LGBT families, a workshop on what are called "test cases," and a meeting with an LGBT parent who will share his or her personal story. Participating teachers will also be given a kit with literature that offers alternative models of parenthood, children’s books about gender, and recommendations for ways of drafting enrollment forms for preschools.
Hoshen’s work in the Tel Aviv schools will be conducted on a volunteer basis and its training sessions will only be offered at preschools and elementary schools that request it. During the last school year, the NGO provided training to preschool teachers, in Herzliya, for the first time. It is currently in touch with officials in other locales to explore the possibility of offering similar programs in additional schools. Hoshen staff say that past experience shows that support from the local authority and subsidies for activities helps the organization reach more schools.
Hoshen has focused on working with middle schools and high schools for the past 12 years, says its director, Yaheli Ben-Ami Wittenberg, but now the time has come to widen the circle.
“Our primary aim is to train educational staff to deal with LGBT-related issues and to shatter stigmas about sexual orientation and gender identity," she explains. "Due to changes that have occurred over the last few years, and to increasing demand from LGBT families – bisexual, lesbian and gay couples – the need has arisen to spread this knowledge and to train educators to deal with such issues.”
For the last few years, the Tel Aviv and Herzliya municipalities have been funding about half of Hoshen’s activity in schools. Other local authorities bear part of the costs, but not on a regular basis. During the last school year, Hoshen ran 700 programs around the country, about 77 percent aimed at high-schoolers. Staff at the organization have also led educational sessions for university students, soldiers, police officers and other professionals.
Ben-Ami Wittenberg says that one goal of Hoshen's program is to help educators deal with issues they are not familiar with.
“The aim is to help teachers deal with questions they aren’t comfortable talking about, or about which they lack knowledge," she notes. "In teacher-training programs, there is no exposure to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity – for example, how to talk to a child and to understand whether or not he has one mother at home; how to present and explain surrogacy; or how to deal with parents’ homophobia, such as in cases when they won’t let their child play at the house of a friend who has two mothers.”
Adds Ben-Ami Wittenberg: “The preschool age, the age when the socialization process begins – this is precisely the time to start working with educators so they’ll be aware of how to avoid gender tracking. If a boy wants to play with dolls, or a girl wants to do something that’s associated with male gender roles, then let them. Preschool teachers must be made aware that not all children relate to conventional gender roles.”
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