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Giving students a voice to better welcome diversity

On the occasion of the publication of an article to which three Lab School students contributed in the journal of the Pädagogische Hochschule Wien – Students as co-researchers: a participative action research on the construction of identity during adolescence, we would like to return to a project that illustrates the way in which our young school is growing up along with its students and is facing new questions as the latter mature and interrogate themselves and the world around them.

In the fall of 2021, several middle school students expressed their interest in the issue of gender identity for the first time since the creation of the school. They took an active part in reflecting alongside the educational team in order to create a safe space to exchange freely and to allow each student to feel welcome in his or her individuality. A discussion group entitled "Gender and Society" was set up, facilitated by one of the school's civic services who had a master's degree in philosophy. The discussions allowed the teenagers to develop awareness of the different facets of their identities beyond gender.

The work went much further, as a real research project was implemented, in which the students took part as co-researchers. They participated in an academic study day at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in June 2022 and two of them spoke publicly on the program Être et savoir on France Culture in May 2022. Another article in English was published in the Journal of Intelligence: Fostering Engagement, Reflexivity, and 21st-Century Skills in Middle School: A Pilot Collaborative Action Research on Identity Formation with Adolescent Co-Researchers.

Taking into account the point of view of the main stakeholders and relying on research in the human and social sciences were the pillars of our approach: welcoming diversity cannot be decreed, but must be constructed with the collaboration of all the concerned actors. It is thanks to productive exchanges and mutual trust between young people and adults that a better understanding was born, accompanied by concrete practical measures, such as asking teenagers at the beginning of the year which pronoun they would like to be addressed by (subject to their parents' agreement) or the decision not to indicate gender on the school's bathroom doors.

The work doesn't stop there, however, because embracing diversity in the school - of gender, culture, sexual orientation, language, socioeconomic status, etc - is an ongoing daily challenge. It must be constantly reaffirmed in order to help students discover and respect their differences.

Furthermore, in an environment where students and families from different countries, languages and cultures come together, new questions regularly emerge depending on the circumstances and the sensitivities of the people involved. Some subjects are particularly sensitive and can arouse strong emotions. Each time, by taking into consideration the point of view of the persons concerned, by relying on research, by calling upon members of our scientific council and the experience of other establishments, we continue to try to respond as well as possible to each situation, by opening the debate - even if it is not always serene! -by taking a reflective look at our experience and sharing it as widely as possible with others through publications. Seen in this way, each new question is a source of learning for the educational team, the students, and the entire school ecosystem.


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