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CREC Teacher Wins CEA Human and Civil Rights Award
The Connecticut Education Association (CEA) announced in June that STEM Coach Clare Neseralla of CREC Discovery Academy is the 2019-2020 recipient of the Harvey Milk – Sylvia Rivera Award for Challenging Discrimination Related to Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation. The award is one of several Human and Civil Rights Awards that CEA hands out each year.
Neseralla’s success in starting Discovery Academy’s student Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club and her work serving on the CREC School Advisory Council on LGBTQI+ Affairs are the reasons CEA chose her for the prestigious award.
“I love that my district is taking steps toward inclusion and embracing diversity,” said Neseralla. “Our students love having a space to talk and want to do outreach in our school and the community. I am grateful for all the staff members that volunteer their time to run our five clubs.”
The GSA clubs at Discovery Academy meet regularly for over 90 minutes and use literature and classroom lessons to create a safe share-and-talk space for the participating students. All students in grades Pre-Kindergarten through fifth-grade, ages 3 to 11, are welcome to join the GSA clubs. Discovery Academy separates the clubs into three different groups by grade level. The Pre-K through first-grade group, the Community Club, focuses their conversations on compassion, acceptance, and understanding. The second and third-grade group, the Friendship Club, focuses on being good friends, different family structures, and ally support for LGBTQI friends. The fourth and fifth-grade group named their club PEPPA – which stands for pride, encouragement, people, peace, acceptance – and they focus on action by raising money to bring awareness to their cause. In the past, PEPPA has sold t-shirts and held bake sales to fund performances for the school that teach tolerance and bring in community members who work on similar causes to speak to the whole school.
“All the Discovery teachers teach compassion in their classrooms,” said Neseralla about the more than twelve staff members who assist in moderating the clubs. “Sometimes, a smaller group offers a sense of belonging where students feel acceptance. Neseralla wanted to be sure that students feel accepted and have a ‘safe space’ to know they can be themselves.”
“CREC is a social justice organization that allows all children to be comfortable and accepted for who they are,” said Superintendent Tim Sullivan. “We are a place where diversity is not only allowed, but a place where we actively work to assure that all of us believe on a deep spiritual level that we are stronger because of our diversity. We really are better because we are not all the same.”
Neseralla was nominated for the award by Meg Smith, a fifth-grade teacher at Discovery Academy. To be eligible for the award, according to CEA, nominees must have developed or implemented a community-wide, school-wide, or individual program within the school that meets one or more of the following criteria:Furthers an understanding and an appreciation of the achievements of LGBTQQI people. Combats discrimination related to sexual orientation or gender identity in the public school community.Promotes training for educators, based on equity, related to gender identity and sexual orientation.Enhances the lives of LGBTQQI students and/or the children of LGBTQQI parents.
The award is named after Harvey Milk, nationally recognized leader of the movement for gay and lesbian rights, who was fatally shot in 1978 and Sylvia Rivera, a transgender activist and important leader in the 1969 Stonewall Riots.
“I am thankful that [my child] is at a school that educates the whole child and is not afraid to proudly address issues that most school systems shy away from,” said a parent of a student who participates in the Discovery Academy GSA clubs. “A child is NEVER too young to talk about love, kindness, and acceptance.”
The CEA Human and Civil Rights Awards are usually presented in person during CEA's Representative Assembly (RA) annual convention in May. However, due to the situation involving COVID-19, CEA will hold an online RA. CEA also plans to highlight each award winner on their website, www.cea.org.