The Total Child

EQUITY SERIES: Deep Under My Skin

(Coordinated School Health, National Awareness, Equity Series) Permanent link

The following blog post was written by a member of the AASA School Administrator Training Cadre for Coordinated School Health, Dr. Deb Kaclik. Dr. Kaclik explores the complexities of misconstruing gender identity and how it relates to school administrators providing safe environments for their students. Her message is especially pertinent, in light of the controversial law passed in North Carolina –the state where Dr. Kaclik works--, which requires that transgender students use school facilities that correspond with their sex assigned at birth. Recently, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released joint guidance to help provide educators the information they need to ensure that all students, including transgender students, can attend school in an environment free from discrimination based on sex.

 By Dr. Deb Kaclik, Director, Social & Emotional Learning and Behavior Support, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (N.C.)

A few weeks ago I was in the bathroom at a casual restaurant in Charlotte, NC when a woman walked in and asked, “Am I in the right place?” Though the interaction lasted just a split second, I kept replaying it in my mind.

My first thought was: I’m a 50 something year-old woman, wearing sports wear, and running shoes. Was it the way I was dressed? Is it because I’m 5’11” tall and 170 pounds that she would assume that I didn’t belong in her bathroom? Or that I don’t look particularly feminine but more “sporty” maybe? Because I have short hair? More muscular and fit? Did she assume I was a man in the women’s bathroom? Why did she assume that or even ask the question? 

 I felt angry. But why? I’m proud of who I am. I feel accepted by my colleagues, my staff, and a broad group of political leaders. I am blessed with loving relationships: my partner, my family, and my friends.

I would not have felt as angry, perhaps, if she would have just stared at me and said nothing. So how did she get so deep under my skin? There was more than just anger there. This woman had dragged me from my happy place back to those painful times, when I was younger, remembering the feelings of being mis-gendered. The awkwardness, the feelings of wanting to disappear, or miraculously spin into a ninja and escape. What's wrong with me? How do I change who I am? Can I change what I look like? What do they see? Who am I? What am I?

Are people intentionally looking for who they perceive to look like men in the women’s restroom now that the topic is at the forefront in the media? Are we creating a hypersensitive atmosphere and even making things worse for an already marginalized person? If I am now thinking and experiencing these things, just stop for a minute to process what our transgender, and gender nonconforming students and staff, must be feeling, thinking, and worse experiencing?

What should matter is only what is what, who is who, and me is me! What is happening to me and how it is making me feel is important to me. Who will stand up for me? Do what is right? Create the comfortable culture for all without pointing the ME’s out? Help me? Possibly protect me? Do we accept people for who they are and appreciate the differences that individuals provide that color our world? In public education, every student is supposed to be welcome. He/She/They should feel safe, accepted, and supported for who he/she/they are in school. But what IS happening in your schools' classrooms, hallways, and bathrooms...when the words "hey f-g" or "you're so gay" ring out? Or a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) awareness poster is ripped down off the wall? Do you talk with your staff about addressing these issues? Do you role play them in your leadership meetings? Your culture may not be as accepting to all as you truly thought it was. How are you going to assess and ensure that everyone is accepted and feels safe under your watch? 

We have had our fill of personal agendas, politics and values recently. Both verbalized and written, these claims can run deep, sometimes making no sense or having no purpose if we really think about it. Personal agendas find there way of crowding out common sense.

 How lucky we are to live in a time and in a place where youth voices sharing their viewpoints and perspectives, can snap adults back into reality. Listening to their personal stories * confronting challenges, generates avenues for dialogue and opportunities to check our own bias. Establishing caring, respectful environments in our schools creates openings for everyone to engage in acceptance. Support from the broader community and equal protection from our laws can affirm dignity and grace, raising everyone up. It is our job as educators and administrators to model and lead it!

 *You are invited to engage your schools and community in the conversation by viewing the documentaries and downloading the facilitator guides at no charge from Thank you!

Father’s Day May Not Be Easy For Some Students

(National Awareness) Permanent link

A guest post by Dr. Tom Demaria from the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, who develops a number of topical articles on bereavement for the Coalition to Support Grieving Students.  

 CGS Logo

 For school programs that extend into the summer months, Father’s Day is often a day to celebrate. Students might make cards, write stories or perform plays. Some invite their fathers to school for special programs marking the importance of fathers in children’s lives.
For a child whose father is absent, however, these celebrations can be confusing and even painful. This can include a surprising number of students. A father may have died. He may live in another state or town. He may be deployed in the military. He may be in prison. Some fathers’ whereabouts are unknown to their children.

The First Father's Day

The first Father’s Day, ironically, was organized on July 5, 1908, by a woman named Grace Golden Clayton. The previous December, her own father had been killed in West Virginia’s Monongah Mining Disaster—one of 361 lives lost that day. Of the men killed, 250 had been fathers. About a thousand children in the community were left fatherless.
Grace Clayton wanted to honor the memory of all of those fathers and share her grief with other families who had lost loved ones.

 Today's Father's Day

Father’s Day is a very different kind of event today, celebrating living fathers and their value in our own lives. It makes sense to affirm the importance of positive male role models for students. Using a few simple steps, educators can present Father’s Day activities in ways that are less likely to be troubling or traumatizing for those children who do not have fathers engaged in their lives.

  1.  Expect that these activities might trigger feelings of confusion or grief. It is not difficult to imagine such reactions for children who have experienced the death of their father. However, such activities might also be troubling for children who have lost other important male figures in their lives—uncles, grandfathers, neighbors. Even children who have gone through the death of a sibling, mother or close family friend might be reminded of ways the family has changed since the death.
  2.  Frame activities in broad, flexible ways. Acknowledge the possibility that fathers may be absent. For example, you might say, “For this Father’s Day activity, I’d like you to focus on your father or another important male adult in your life—someone who cares for you and has provided support. If your father is not living, or he does not live with you, you can still complete this activity with him in mind if you wish.”
  3.  Reach out to grieving students ahead of time if possible. If you know a student has gone through a loss in the family, speak privately before the activity. Describe what you plan to do. Then ask if the student feels comfortable with this activity or would like to do something else.
  4.  Be sensitive to students’ responses during the activity. Watch for students who show signs of discomfort or distress. Check in to see if they would like to adapt the activity in some way (e.g., making a card for their mother, a helpful neighbor, or their best friend). Avoid calling on these students during discussions, but allow them to volunteer to speak if they wish.

 These are also useful adaptations for activities on other holidays that focus on family connections—Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving and more. Offer students options suitable to their range of life experiences.
The Coalition to Support Grieving Students hosts a website with videos and downloadable modules providing more information about students and grief. Our organization is a member of the Coalition.

The Orlando Shootings – Parents’ guide for talking to their children

(National Awareness) Permanent link

Dr. Tom Demaria from the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, develops a number of topical articles on bereavement for the Coalition to Support Grieving Students. The following is a guide for parents for talking to their children regarding the Orlando Shootings this past weekend.  

 We hope that educators will also be able to use this resource when talking with their students as well. 

  •  Why should I talk about this with my children?
  • What questions are children likely to have?

 They will ask what happened

 Children and teenagers are better able to cope with upsetting news when they understand more about the upsetting event. They need information just as adults do. Begin by asking your child or teenager what they already understand about the tragic Orlando shooting. They have likely heard about it on TV, at school, or from their friends. However, much of their information may not be accurate. As they explain what they know about the Orlando shooting, you can figure out what it is they don’t already know or understand. Look for misunderstandings or frightening rumors. Tell the truth and do not try to mislead them “for their own good.” Children of different ages understand and react differently according to their developmental age and unique personal experiences. It is important to remember that we cannot assume that children's worries are the same as our own. When we listen to our children and come to understand their feelings and worries, we can better help them make sense of these experiences and how they affect us all.
The amount of details that children will find useful will depend upon their age. The older the child is, the more details will likely be needed to answer their concerns. Provide the basic information in simple and direct terms and then ask for questions. Take your cues from your child in determining how much information to provide. Older children may wish to discuss the larger implications of the event. Provide reassurance whenever possible. Our government and police are taking steps to protect us from something like this happening again and keep us safe. Children often look for reassurance that they are now safe after such graphic reminders of danger and hatred take place close to their home and in city usually associated with happy memories. Terrorist acts such as this remind us all that we are never completely safe – but now is the best time to reassure children that they can and should feel safe in their school, in their home, and in their community.

Could I have done anything to prevent this?

 After a tragic event, we all wonder what we and others could have done to prevent this from happening.
Even when it is obvious that there is nothing your child or teenager could have done to prevent or minimize the crisis, they may still feel helpless and wish they could have changed what happened. Let children know that this is a normal reaction; we all wish that there is something we could have done to prevent this or any tragedy. Instead, suggest that together you and your child can concentrate on what can be done now to help those most directly affected and to ensure safety, tolerance and acceptance in our communities.

Whose fault is it?

In some ways, blaming is a way to feel as if you can regain control of uncomfortable feelings and the risk being felt. While it is natural to engage in thoughts of blame, this doesn’t ease the immediate feelings of grief and fear nor does it provide any solutions for the future. It is understandable that people would be angry at the individuals who commit acts of terrorism and hatred, but sadly sometimes people are also angry at those people that are easier to find and blame – such as people who look like they might belong to the group that was responsible. Children should be told that although it is normal to feel angry, terrorists do not represent a particular race or ethnic group. The Orlando shooting may also cause children and teenagers to become frightened that they may be targeted by people because they may fear others do not approve of who they are. We as Americans take pride in having members of many different races, sexual orientations and ethnic backgrounds. This is a time to join together and continue to be inclusive, accepting and supportive to all who seek peace.

Is this going to change my life? 

 This is a question that we all struggle to answer, not only for our children but also for ourselves. Especially in difficult times, children may act immaturely. Teenagers may want to spend more time with their peers. Children and teenagers are often very concerned about themselves. When there is a tragic event, they may become even more concerned about what affects them personally. Adults who do not understand this may see this as being selfish or uncaring. It is important to make your children feel comfortable in asking questions and expressing their feelings. Expect your children to think more about themselves for the time being. Once they feel reassured that they are being listened to and their needs will be met, they are more likely to be able to start to think about the needs of others.

Can I help?

Once children start to feel safe and understand what is going on, many will want to help. While there may be little that they can do now to help the immediate victims of this crisis, there is a lot they can do to help. They can start by taking care of themselves – telling you when they are upset or worried, being honest and open. They can also offer help to other members of their community – their friends and classmates, their teacher, and other adults. Over time, they can think about how they, along with other members of their community, might be able to do something helpful for the victims and survivors.

Some of the questions my child asks are so painful to respond to. I don’t want to make things worse, so should I say nothing instead?

 Often what children and teenagers need most is to have someone they trust listen to their questions, accept their feelings, and be there for them. Don’t worry about knowing the perfect thing to say – there is no answer that will make everything okay. Listen to their concerns and thoughts, answer their questions with simple, direct and honest responses, and provide appropriate reassurance and support. While we would all want to keep our children from ever having to hear about something like this, reality does not allow this. Being silent on the issue won’t protect them from what happened, but only prevent them from understanding and coping with it. Remember that answers and reassurance should be at the level of the child's understanding.  

What if this upsets them?

 During these discussions, children may show that they are upset – they may cry, get anxious or cranky, or show you in some other way that they are upset. Remember, it is the events that are upsetting them, not the discussion. Talking about the event will permit them the opportunity to show you how upset they really are. This is the first step in coping with their feelings and adjusting to their new understanding of the world. Pause the conversation periodically so that you can provide support and comfort to your child and ask if he or she wishes to continue the discussion at another time. But it is helpful for them to realize that it is okay to show you when they are upset. Otherwise, they may try to hide their feelings and will then be left to deal with them alone. 

What if they don’t ask any questions – should I bring it up? What if they don’t seem to want to talk about it?

  When a major crisis of this nature occurs, it is a good idea to bring the topic up with your children, no matter how young they are. At first, older children and teenagers may tell you that they don’t want to or need to discuss it. It is generally not a good idea to force them to talk with you, but do keep the door open for them to come back and discuss it later. Be available when your child is ready to talk, but let them choose the time. Often children find it easier to talk about what other children are saying or feeling instead of talking about themselves.

 How can I tell if my child needs more than I can provide? Where would I go for such help?

 When there is a tragedy of this size occurs, most people will be upset. However, should your child or teenager continue to be very upset for several days and is unable to recover from their fears, or they are having trouble in school, home or with their friends, then it is a good idea to speak with someone outside the family for advice. The Orlando shooting may have triggered other distressing experiences, worries or concerns of your child. You may wish to speak with your child’s teacher or school counseling services, pediatrician, mental health counselor or member of the clergy for advice. Please remember that you shouldn’t wait until you think they NEED counseling – you should take advantage of counseling and support whenever you think it will be helpful. 

What if I have more questions? Where can I turn for answers?
Visit the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at, the Coalition to Support Grieving Students at, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network at, or the National Association of School Psychologists at

EQUITY SERIES: PGCPS' Policy on Gender Neutral Graduation Caps and Gowns

(National Awareness, Equity Series) Permanent link

In May 2016, The U.S Departments of Education and Justice released joint guidance to help provide information that all students, including transgender students, can attend school in an environment free from discrimination. Read more from AASA’s Policy and Advocacy Blog, The Leading Edge. Learn more about the Title IX Guidance during an AASA webinar featuring legal expert Maree Sneed. 

As graduation season begins, this guidance is especially useful as the color of graduation caps and gowns is often used to indicate genders. In Prince George's County Public Schools (PGCPS), the school district implemented a new protocol this year for gender neutral graduation caps and gowns for high school students with all students now wearing the same color. Dr. Kevin Maxwell, Chief Executive Officer of PGCPS wrote the following guest post on this topic. 

Guest Post by Dr. Kevin Maxwell, Chief Executive Officer of Prince George's County Public Schools (Md.)  

 bloggradrobes2014 Bloggradrobes2016  

Graduation Ceremony at Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Prince George’s County Public School.
(from L-R, the 2014 graduation ceremony where men wore green and women wore silver; the 2016 graduation ceremony where all students wore green.)

 Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) recently adopted a new protocol on gender neutral graduation caps and gowns for students. This all began two years ago when the district received requests from students who wanted permission to wear the other genders cap and gown color. Principals said “no.” There was concern about potential liability, the district wanted to be nondiscriminatory. Therefore, we decided to follow suit behind colleges and universities and have students wear one color. Associate Superintendent Dr. Sito Narcisse encouraged members of my team to meet with the high school principals.

We informed principals of our decision for students to wear gender neutral graduation caps and gowns moving forward. We also received a few inquiries from the public, mostly because graduation pictures were taken before the decision was announced at the beginning of the school year. A few people complained about the graduation pictures being a different color than the gown in which they will cross the stage. However, it’s important to note that this comports with the Maryland State Department of Education guidelines for providing safe spaces for transgender and gender non-conforming youth.

It has always been the policy of Prince George's County Public Schools to oppose and prohibit, without qualification, unlawful discrimination and harassment based on race, color, sex, age, national origin, religion, marital status, sexual orientation or disability. As a proactive measure, we provided training to principals. We are also putting together a focus group to address the matter and allowing students. 

AASA’s Alternative School Breakfast Initiative Turns 5!

(Alternative School Breakfast) Permanent link

It’s hard to believe how fast time goes! AASA’s partnership with the Walmart Foundation is 5 years old this month.

In June 2011, we started down the path of working with school districts to increase breakfast participation by serving breakfast in alternative ways. We’ve granted 611 schools in 28 districts in 15 states, reaching over 452,000 students! This has filled a lot of hungry bellies, ensuring that students are ready to learn first thing in the morning.

In working in that many districts, schools, and with that number of students, we’ve learned many lessons along the way.

  • Breakfast in the Classroom isn’t as scary as it sounds when the idea is first presented. In many districts, students are responsible for distributing the breakfast to each classroom, and take clean-up very seriously. There are far fewer spills than the adults anticipate.


  •  It’s not always easy to get a middle or high-school student to eat school breakfast in the morning. One way our grantee districts have been successful is to use vending machines. Teenagers all across the country are using vending machines made specifically to vend out a reimburseable breakfast.


  •  Changing how breakfast is served shouldn’t be seen as only a food service initiative. There are some things that just can’t be accomplished without the superintendent’s leadership, as well as input from other key stakeholders. We require our grantees to have a School Breakfast Team, which includes the superintendent, and should meet on a regular basis. Some districts have connected their district-level school health team with the breakfast team for efficiency. 

We are so grateful to the many superintendents, food service directors, anti-hunger advocates, Dairy Council representatives, consultants and past AASA staff members who have worked and continue to work alongside those of us at AASA to increase breakfast participation nationwide. And of course, none of this work could be done without the support of the Walmart Foundation.

Happy birthday to AASA’s school breakfast initiative!
For more information and resources on alternative school breakfast, go to