The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Teacher Lesson Return to "A School Where I Can Be Myself"
A School Where I Can Be Myself
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Lesson for “A School Where I Can Be Myself”

Wilber Valenzuela’s story adds another dimension to the discussion about homosexuality: coping with prejudice. “I had just finished up my last mid-term exam and was heading for the bus when I heard people yelling. I turned around and saw a crowd of people running after me...That wasn’t the first time I was harassed because of my sexuality. My fellow students hurled insults at me all the time.”

But, for Wilber, it was the first time that the harassment had turned physical. Fearing for his safety, he decided not to return to his school, or attend another school where the same thing could end up happening. A support group for gay teens led Wilber to a safe haven--the Harvey Milk School, an alternative high school for gay, lesbian and bisexual teens. “Everything about the school was different than what I was used to...Going to the school was like therapy for me. I learned more than just math and history, I learned about survival.”

Wilber gained a great deal of wisdom from his experience, which the reader can learn and draw inspiration from as well. Forced to take action by a threat to his physical safety, Wilber transforms himself from almost-a-victim to an activist in control of his own destiny. He enrolls in a school that accepts him for who he is, and nurtures his self-esteem and confidence, while providing him with a community. While he’s at this school he learns about himself, about important topics like AIDS and safe sex, and also about his own false stereotypes about gay people. Some discussion ideas:

• Wilber is harassed and humiliated by his schoolmates because he is different. Ask your students to think of an example they’ve witnessed of someone being harassed because of a difference? What were the circumstances? What was their role? If it happened again, would they do anything different?

• Wilber chose a separate school for gay, lesbian and bisexual youth because of his problems in a regular school. Do you think that is a good solution? Should there be separate schools for other minority students.

Talk about Wilber’s stereotypes of gay people, and what he discovered at Harvey Milk. Do your students find it surprising that a gay person would have these stereotypes? Do they have stereotypes of their own about gay people? Where do these stereotypes come from?
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