Mercury Bay Area School take part in InsideOUT diversity workshop
Students, teachers and InsideOUT worked together to make their school more inclusive

One of the ways Pink Shirt Day is working to put an end to bullying in Aotearoa is through supporting rainbow organisation InsideOUT to run their diversity workshops in schools. Since 2019, InsideOUT has run 67 workshops up and down the motu, helping students and teachers alike to increase inclusiveness, prevent bullying and celebrate diversity in their school.

At the beginning of 2021, New Zealand’s largest area school, Mercury Bay Area School (MBAS), took part in one of InsideOUT’s workshops, working together to create a collaborative plan to help prevent bullying and celebrate diversity at their school. With over 1,000 students aged 5 - 18, and over 100 staff, MBAS is a big and diverse school, which made it the perfect candidate for a diversity workshop.

At the outset of the workshop, the MBAS Kura Wellbeing Team (school counsellors and nurses) helped InsideOUT hit the ground running, with forums for interested students and an all-of-staff staff hui designed to educate all staff on the issues and challenges that LGBTQIA+ students face. The result was a focus on the desired culture for the kura and the establishment of an ‘E Team’: a student-led group (‘E’ for Equality) who meet every Friday for all things related to fostering inclusiveness in their school.  The E Team is also a place for students to celebrate their own diversity, supported with working agreements they developed themselves around compassion and respect for others.

“It was clear from the beginning that our rainbow youth wanted a wider mahi around inclusiveness for all students who may feel isolated or marginalised for ANY reason,” says Carolyn Gibbs, Head of Kura Wellbeing and primary liaison for the E Team.

“Our E Team represent diverse religions, abilities, cultures, gender, sexuality….and basically anyone who is just feeling left out. We found the resources and support from InsideOUT extremely helpful, especially their publication Starting and Strengthening Rainbow Diversity Groups.”

MBAS’ E Team group consists of approximately 20 middle and senior years students who are passionate about diversity and inclusiveness. Now into their second year of this mahi, the students are continuing to drive inclusiveness-focused activities and promote the important values of acceptance and positive relationships – values that are at the heart of what Mercury Bay Area School is striving for.

The E Team have driven many activities since their formation, including spearheading Pink Shirt Days and Bullying Free NZ Weeks, running promotions and competitions supporting inclusivity, creating a rainbow mural with their hand prints, developing posters to spread the word to other students and encourage them to be a part of the mahi, ‘chalk-bombing’ messages of positivity and self acceptance around the school, informing the development of policies around bullying and inclusiveness, and acting as a youth reference panel for all things that could benefit from student voice.

“It has been humbling to witness the growth in confidence from some of these young people, and to be challenged on assumptions that can exist in the adult space around what might be best,” says Carolyn.

“It is so vital that this is student led – and student voice. The mantra for gathering student voice to inform decisions at MBAS is ‘not about us, without us’.  It is a work in progress, and can mean things need to be reviewed and perspectives sometimes shifted, but is absolutely worthwhile!”

InsideOUT provides resources, information, workshops and support for anything concerning rainbow or LGBTQIA+ issues and education for schools, workplaces and community organisations across Aotearoa.

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