When Dajon Battle came knocking on the doors of the new LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland last summer, its paint had barely begun to dry. The new center, which opened June 2019, was a beacon of light for Cleveland’s LGBTQ community.
As one of Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s program administrators, Battle saw the new center as an opportunity to provide LGBTQ youth within the school district further opportunities.
“I think it’s really important that our youth see themselves every single day,” says Battle. “If I’m in an environment that’s saturated with individuals who look like me, sound like me, talk like me and dress like me, then I’m more comfortable in my education, in my life, in my voice and in my skin.”
In September, Battle partnered with the LGBT Center’s director of programs, Gulnar Feerasta, to launch the School of One: Solutions for Global Issues at the Center. The new high school joins eight other site-specific schools in the city in an effort to provide access to education in an inclusive community for students.
Following the School of One model, students ages 14-22 who attend the open-enrollment school will be able to build on their core CMSD curriculum with one-on-one instruction. Additional resources such as the Center’s QYou Leadership Development Institute, a 13-week module series that covers sexuality and gender diversity studies, LGBTQ history, queer sex education, advocacy and more, are also available for anyone interested in additional credits. And since this is the first public school in the country to be established within an LGBT center, it has the chance to create a safe learning environment.
“The environment has a lot to do with your overall well-being,” says Feerasta. “We have a lot of youth who’ve disclosed to us about the bullying, the physical intimidation and violence they encounter in schools.”
Pre-pandemic, the Center was on track to take on approximately 20 students, but as long as social distance rules are in place, current enrollment has been reduced to eight with classes being held virtually. Still, the importance of a school like this is not overlooked.
“The difference that it can make when you can be in a safe space and a safe environment and be your authentic, true self, especially for our trans and nonbinary youth, is huge,” says Feerasta. “This school is the culmination of all the love and support and passion that folks over the years have poured into the Center ... no matter what age you are.”