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The Masco Messenger

The Masco Messenger

The Masco Messenger


  Unbeknownst to many, the Gender Support Team is a real part of Masco that has been working to make Masco a safer and more inclusive place.  

  English teacher, GSA advisor, and current chair of GST Shannon Murphy has been in support of the LGBTQ community since she started working at Masco and even long before that. The GST first met as an official committee in 2015 and they focused on one specific mission: to create guidelines to make sure that Masco was compliant with state law.

  “Gender identity was added to the anti-discrimination clause,” said Murphy. “So we put  together an original set of guidelines. But then from there, we created the Gender Support Team.”

  The early guidelines had been a product of a committee called SHAC, or Student Health Advisory Council. The school nurse at the time, Karen Trevenen, chaired the original committee and the first year of the creation of GST.

  Special Education Program Coordinator Kimberly Smith has been a member of the committee since 2017, as she wanted the school to be an inclusive and safe environment.

  “I have students that are non-binary and transgender, and I wanted to properly support and ensure they feel comfortable in school,” said Smith.  “I want to work with faculty to discuss student challenges, concerns, and work on solutions productively.”

  The team has planned events, advocated for change, and offered support to faculty. 

  For middle school adjustment counselor Alexis Kostas, a clinician and a licensed mental health counselor, the team was a clear necessity. Kostas learned a lot about gender and its nuances as an undergrad, and later she became aware of the work being done to help support people who were transgender or making their transition. She has been a member of the team since its start.

  “I found that fascinating and interesting,” said Kostas. “I think I just spent a lot of time learning about what this experience was like for people.”

  Kostas said that it’s very important to have multiple adults in the building who are understanding and can help be supportive of the students going through the challenge of finding out who they are in a black-and-white culture that centers around whether you are or are not.

  “It’s hard enough to be in middle school and high school, but to also be in middle school and high school and navigate the idea of gender and the idea that it might not be what you were expecting or told can be really hard,” said Kostas.

  Kostas saw an opportunity to be a part of the GST with a group of staff members to help support the students in the community as well as inform and educate teachers on the matter.

  “The adults in kids’ lives can either make or break the change that happens for kids,” said Kostas. “So it was important that they were equipped with the tools to be able to support kids.”

  To help educate and inform adults, the GST put together a list of resources that they believe would be helpful for those adults who support trans or nonbinary youth they care about. On top of that, the resources are helpful for students as well.

  “We shared them with Tri Town Council,” said Murphy. “Then we linked Masco’s school counseling page to Tri Town Council so that parents who are starting with us could easily find them there.”

  In addition to changes to the website, the team also met with the group of first year teachers this year.  They discussed how to be supportive if certain situations arise, as well as how to ask or answer or students’ questions.

  “We were also really curious about what their first impression was of Masco,” said Murphy. “Just walking through the halls, whether they feel like it’s an inviting place. So that was a helpful discussion.”

  The GST is doing work with staff to help them understand and navigate conversations with students about topics related to identity.  

  “Some teachers have never had that conversation with a student, so they wouldn’t know how to respond or react,” said Kostas. “So the goal is that we’re educating the staff to be able to do that.”

  Kostas said that it is important for the students to know that the Masco Gender Support Team exists.

  “I think if they find one safe adult that they feel connected to and comfortable with in the building, whether that’s their school counselor or one teacher, we’ve done a lot of work with the staff around being able to help them understand how to support kids,” said Kostas.

  In addition, Murphy also believes that the GST should be more well known around the student body. Even if a student never interacts with someone they know is a supportive adult, Murphy still believes having that connection is important. 

  “Research shows that there are positive health outcomes when that student has one adult connection that is not a family member that they feel has their back,” said Murphy.

  Smith agreed that it is important for the students at Masco to know that the GST exists.

  “I believe it is important for students to know about the Gender Support Team in order to have a group they can reach out to if they need support with school issues or have topics or speakers, they are interested in having come to the school,” said Smith.

  In years past, the GST invited  openly transgender NCAA Division I swimmer Schuyler Bailar to come and speak at Masco. In addition to being  an athlete, he is an educator and advocate for LGBTQ rights.

  “It’s been a while since we did a big speaking event or educational field trip like that or an in school assembly. It’s probably time to do something like that again,” said Murphy.

  The GST has more recently accomplished a goal that they have been working towards for years. With the help of principal Katherine Dinardo, they were able to reassign bathrooms on each floor as gender-neutral spaces. 

  “I distinctly remember a conversation with one of my students who was frustrated and missing class all the time because they had to go all the way to the middle school [to use the bathroom],” said Murphy. 

  With concerns like this in mind, the GST became active in arranging meetings with administrators to make this change happen quickly. Single-use bathrooms on the second and third floors of the high school were reassigned from faculty only to gender-neutral. 

  For this year, the GST has the goal to update the safe space stickers for classroom doors. 

  “Some of them are just really old and tattered, and  some people just don’t have them at all. Even if teachers do have them, they just seem a little dated,” said Murphy. “So we’ve secured funding  for new stickers.”

  The GST is also continuing to update the Masconomet website, something they have been working on for a bit of time. 

  “We are in the process of updating the website to include support material and resources for students and the community,” said Smith.

  Despite some challenges throughout the years, members like Kostas are still positive about the progress that has been made.    “Advocating for things that people need, that are a smaller group, can be hard,” said Kostas. “But I have found that the superintendent’s office has been supportive and that Masco has done a really nice job of overcoming those obstacles in ways that are safe and effective.”

  The Gender Support Team is a strong voice for the students in the LGBTQ community and have and will do more to help support the students. These staff members have worked hard to make Masco a welcoming place and will continue to do so.

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