CRYSTAL LAKE – Students of Hannah Beardsley Middle School’s Prism Club are driving acceptance. The club, which began in the middle of the 2017-18 school year, formed upon the request of a group of Hannah Beardsley eighth-graders to provide an outlet for all students, including LGBTQ students, open to all sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.
The club’s mission is to create an accepting and diverse school climate regardless of age, sex, gender, race, religion, social class, political views or appearance. Prism Club strives to create a school community that recognizes the happiness and well-being of every individual by educating and advocating for all.
Prism Club member Alex Chavez is an eighth-grader at HBMS. The 13-year-old Lake in the Hills resident presented on the topic of gender identity and the importance of feeling connected to the eighth-grade Hannah Beardsley health classes this past fall with fellow student and club member Evelyn Molina. They hope to present at the school’s open house this spring, as well.
“I moved schools in eighth grade and came to Hannah Beardsley. A few weeks after I changed schools, I heard about this club and I wanted to join,” Chavez said. “I really like acceptance and I wanted to be a part of that. It’s important that all students have somewhere to go.”
Bilingual teacher Candice Perri and school social worker Nicole Czaja organize Prism Club. Both women attended training with materials provided by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network or GLSEN, as well as PFLAG. They also consulted with Parkland School in McHenry’s District 15, which has a very active LGBTQ student group.
“We’re trying to include all students,” Czaja said. “Not all of our students are athletes that have extracurriculars to attend. The mental health of our kids are impacted by going to clubs available in the schools they are in. From a club standpoint, Prism Club is very open. We have not heard or received negative feedback in regards to the club. A few parents have contacted us that are thankful that there is an outlet for everybody. We wanted to offer a spot to connect, and I think we’re doing that.”
The club started an awareness campaign and distributed stickers of support for teachers and staff to post on their doors. The campaign was very popular with stickers running out. Students took note of the stickers and took to social media to post images of the stickers throughout school in an act of support.
“When we did the posts, I got a lot of feedback from my peers,” Chavez said. “They told me they posted them on social media and Snapchat and we got feedback from high school students that said they wish they had that program when they were in middle school.”
The club members want to continue to educate staff and students about the club and address student needs within the building. They currently are in the process of creating brochures to help teachers support all student needs and are working with the school librarian to develop a section of the library that specifically addresses the topic of LGBTQ identity.
“Acceptance is when everyone looks at each other the same way no matter what race you are, what you identify as, or your sexual preference,” Chavez said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from. This club is more about keeping outside negativity away. Anyone can come and talk about anything. If you’re feeling something or going through something, you want to have a friend there and this is a good place for support.”