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Delaware Students Win Big With Their Plan for Inclusion

Camden, Delaware – Positive Outcomes Charter School Students Ethan Cannon (16), Angeline Connelly (16), and Lilyan Farris (14) represented the Jobs for Delaware Graduates program at the National Career Development Conference held April 18-20, 2024, in St. Louis, Missouri where they ultimately brought home fourth place honors in the Business Plan event. The students earned the right to represent their state by placing first in the Business Plan category during the recent state competitive events which occurred in early March. Their Business Plan took a unique approach by pitching a non-profit model for a student-led training and advocacy program aimed at providing educators and other youth serving programs the tools they need to support all students, particularly those who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ or disability communities. Not only was Proud Schools the only non-profit model entered into the competition, but it also represented one of the only entries that is already operating.


Students for Educational Equity was founded by two Delaware students in 2020 with a goal to support students and families who encounter difficulty finding equitable educational opportunities. Led by students, SEE US provides an opportunity for students to learn self-advocacy skills, receive support when faced with inequities and to share experiences with others in similar situations. In 2022, the organization hosted their first Proud Schools event during a statewide professional development day in Delaware. Sponsored in part by Positive Outcomes Charter School and with pre-recorded appearances from Senator Chris Coons and the late actor, comedian and advocate Leslie Jordan, Proud Schools offered a student perspective on the experience of members of the LGBTQ+ community in schools and provided strategies that teachers can use to build more inclusive and affirming environments for all students. Since then, Proud Schools has grown into a movement with student presenters being invited to share their research and training sessions with educators and advocates from across the world including at the Council for Exceptional Children International Conference and the Federal Office of Special Education Programs Conference.


The Proud Schools team decided to enter their vision for growing the program in the business plan event, in part to share the message with a wider audience. Presented in the style of the tv show “Shark Tank,” the students made a pitch for funding of their idea both through a ten-page written business plan and a ten-minute PowerPoint presentation.  During the state competition, a judge expressed her admiration for the initiative shown by the students, saying “you have a fan in me, a sponsor, a champion, an advocate, and an ally.” Once notified that they had been selected to go to the national competition, the students had less than a month to prepare their materials for presentation to the national judging panel. Once in St. Louis, the team was treated to a Cardinals game and a day of touring the city while also having the opportunity to attend leadership development sessions and a career expo. After presenting Proud Schools to the national judging panel, this team, made up of three students who all identify as both disabled and members of the LGBTQ+ community, waited anxiously for awards night to arrive. Teacher Laura Roeske shared “These are students who have been through seemingly several lifetimes of challenges and adversities, only to come back on top. I kept thinking of everything they have been through, and I just kept crying off and on about how far they’ve all come.” On awards night, they were called first as top ten finalists, and then as the overall 4th place team in the Business Plan division out of the 36 state teams attending. According to team member Angeline, “Once we knew we were in the top ten, the announcer started calling from 10th place up, and I was just standing there thinking okay, it’s not us, it’s not us, it’s still not us. I couldn’t believe it when we placed in the top five. It’s really boosted my confidence to know that something we worked so hard on was recognized. The whole experience was challenging but also so fun and rewarding to be able to advocate for such an important movement at the national level.” Of the experience, Ethan added “This experience was not only one of the coolest and most unique things I’ve ever set out to do, but also helped me realize that I do have a purpose and that I can make a purpose out of my passion.”


To date, Proud Schools presentations have been given to educational leaders representing more than one million students globally and thanks to funding in part from the It Gets Better Project and support from their school, there has been no charge to participate in Proud Schools. Looking ahead to the future, the Proud Schools team is working on securing funds to be able to continue presenting this vital training, through private sponsorships and grants as well as student-led fundraising events. Lilyan shares “We’ve adopted this motto that we let drive us, and we share with people all the time how important it is to be the person you needed when you were younger. I look at what I have gone through, and I hope that because of Proud Schools, maybe fewer kids will have to go through that. If they do, at least maybe they will know that someone out there is fighting for them.”

SEE US founder, Shelby Farris, now a rising sophomore at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, who is also the original creator of Proud Schools, said “I am incredibly proud of this team, and to see how far they have all come is amazing. In the past two years, I have watched them grow and overcome so many fears and anxieties and that is what Proud Schools is all about. When students have affirming spaces, they can do absolutely anything. The challenge is making sure that we can have the tough conversations that need to happen for those affirming spaces to exist, with respect for everyone at the table.” The next presentation on the calendar for the team is at the National Charter Schools Conference in Boston in July of 2024.

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