LGBTQ inclusive curricula introduced in hundreds of rural schools

Hope in a Box, a start-up nonprofit based in New York that developed the definitive primer in LGBTQ-inclusive literature for young adults, is working with dozens of university professors and middle and high school teachers across the country to make hundreds of rural public school more LGBTQ-inclusive. The founding team of recent college graduates designed a bibliography of 50 books—with supporting movies, magazines, and albums—that is already helping dozens of teachers diversify their classrooms nationwide, to rave reviews. Their effort is part of a growing national movement to diversify public school curricula, notably in NJ, IL, CO, MD, and OR.

Founded in 2018, Hope in a Box collaborates with public schools to make rural classrooms more LGBT-inclusive. Through literature donations, curriculum building, and educator coaching, Hope in a Box is a free resource that aims to cultivate accepting environments for students from young ages, paving the way for mental and emotional well-being throughout life. 

This Spring, Hope in a Box partnered with 25 rural public schools to pilot “Starter Boxes:” packages of 20-30 books from their bibliography along with supporting multimedia and curriculum guides for key texts. Teachers celebrated the materials as “a treasure” and “potentially life-saving.” Based on feedback from users, 100% of educators feel better equipped to reach and support LGBT students because of Hope in a Box, and 90% believe Hope in a Box noticeably improves LGBT students’ emotional wellbeing within one semester of receiving materials; 80% of educators plan to formally incorporate the materials into their curricula this academic year. The pilot schools are diverse, including a traditional Mormon school in Washington state, low-income schools in rural Vermont and New Jersey, and conservative Southern schools in Tennessee and Alabama, among others.

The team’s early success has already attracted attention and funding from the Wal-Mart Foundation and Command Education. Kevin Jennings, the founder of GLSEN and President Obama’s former Head of Safe Schools said: “Hope in a Box’s work is literally saving lives. When young LGBTQ people see themselves reflected in school curricula, their sense of self and well-being goes up dramatically, and rates of bullying and harassment drop just as dramatically.  By providing these resources to schools with little access to them, Hope in a Box is making a life-saving difference for many young people.”

By end of the 2019 school year, Hope in a Box aims to support hundreds of rural schools in all 50 states; nearly 200 schools across 35 states already joined a waitlist. The nonprofit’s goal is to help at least half of these schools incorporate the materials into curricula. 

Many children rarely see positive representation of LGBT identities in school. In 2018, the Human Rights Campaign found that only 13% of students heard positive messaging around LGBT identity in schools; just one in four LGBT students always feel safe in school, and 73% receive threats because of their sexuality. These issues are especially severe in rural areas, according to GLSEN, the LGBTQ nonprofit.