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Affirmations Alternative High School Dean of Students Tobey Brock at computer with the schools office manager Paul Skelly. The school opened last month and is currently seeking to register 50 more students. BTL photo: Crystal Proxmire
Creating A Safe Space For Learning: Affirmations Alternative High School
By Crystal A. Proxmire
Originally printed 10/3/2013 (Issue 2140 - Between The Lines News)
FERNDALE - In the safety of the brightly-painted youth room of Affirmations Community Center, teens and adults have a unique opportunity - to get their high school diploma or GED in an LGBT-inclusive environment.
Affirmations Alternative High School started last week with four students enrolled - one teen and four adults. The goal is to recruit up to 50 participants in the next few weeks.
Coursework is done primarily online, with remote teachers available anytime and drop-in hours on-site with a Dean of Students and office manager there to help.
The Dean of Students Tobey Brock, knows the struggles that some LGBT youth face in a traditional school environment. Brock was raised in a strong Pentecostal home and though he did not come out until his 30s, he experienced their rejection hard. On top of that, he experienced hatred and harassment first-hand as an adult.
After teaching in private Christian schools for several years, Brock went back to Baker College in Flint in 2005 for additional certification. Out of the blue, fliers started appearing on cars in the parking lot of the school.
"It was my face put onto pornographic images, with all kinds of vulgarities," Brock said. At the same time, people he knew, including his own mother, got letters in the mail condemning him. The last of the fliers showed Brock with a gun to his head.
"The Flint Police got involved and they looked at the postmarks on the letters. They went to the post office and watched the tapes of who was dropping off mail and figured out which car was there both times. The car was registered to a student at Baker. It turned out to be a kid who I had taught back when he was in fifth grade," he said.
Brock explained that police brought the college freshman in for questioning, and that he broke down, cried and confessed. "He also came out as gay himself," he said. Brock asked that charges not be pressed as the youth promised to get help. Later Brock learned that the young man, who had a gun, took his own life.
"I haven't really thought of that in years," Brock said when asked about his prior experiences with bullying. "I guess if I could wish anything it would be for even one person not to have to feel what that kid felt, or for anyone to face harassment like I did."
Affirmations Alternative School is intended to give students a break from harassing situations and provide them with uniquely tailored mentorship opportunities. While they may not have the benefit of social integration, they do get to be around other LGBT people of all ages and backgrounds, particularly if they come to the center in person.
The school is administered through Michigan Educational Partnership and diplomas are issued through Ithaca Schools. MEP has been providing alternative education opportunities for 35 years, including online learning. Affirmations is believed to be the first school set up specifically tailored to the LGBT community in Michigan.
"Students come in and we do two sets of tests to find out where their skill levels are," Brock said. "Then they work at their own pace based on where they are at." Classes are in line with the Michigan Merit curriculum.
Affirmations Board President Mark Blanke supported bringing in the program. "Providing this important program at Affirmations keeps us relevant and on mission in terms of providing a welcoming space for youth and adults to learn and grow," he said. "In the future, we expect to receive support from the state, private foundations and donors. We plan for this to be a sustainable long-term relationship with our partnership with the Michigan Educational Partnership. We hope it will bring new users to the Center and allow us to access new donors as new relationships are built.
The program brings in full funding from the state for youth who participate. Adults are funded at a lower rate.
"The success of this program will be dependent upon word of mouth, and encouraging at-risk and bullied youth between the ages of 16 and 18 to consider the Affirmations Alternative High School Program as a viable option to continue advancing their education. If adults in need of a GED or adult high school diploma are looking for a safe and non-judgmental environment to continue their education, we will welcome them as well," said Blanke.
To find out more about the program, visit their website at http://www.goaffirmations.org/?page=programservices_AAHS.
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