Alumna named Educator of the Year for work on behalf of LGBTQ youth in D.C.

Desiree Raught
Desiree Raught

Virginia Commonwealth University alumna and high school teacher in Washington, D.C., was named the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network’s national Educator of the Year in recognition of her efforts to create a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students at her school and across the district.

Desiree Raught, who graduated from VCU in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in English from the College of Humanities and Sciences, teaches 10th grade English at McKinley Technology High School, where she founded and sponsored the school’s first Gay-Straight Alliance and serves on the citywide LGBTQ Steering Committee to develop LGBT initiatives that impact, guide and support all DCPS students and administrators.

“There are so many great educators out there standing up for and making moves for our youth,” Raught said. “I feel so humbled to be counted among them, but I honestly feel that I share this award with them. Collectively, our work has touched thousands of lives and hopefully will continue to inspire students to stand up against bullying, name calling and harassment of LGBT students.”

Teaching students that acceptance is cool, and modeling that acceptance daily, is a top priority for me.

She added that she hopes to live up to the responsibility of being named Educator of the Year in her classroom, school and community.

“I feel that the public education system needs to respond to students’ social and emotional needs, not just their content or academic needs,” she said. “Teaching students that acceptance is cool, and modeling that acceptance daily, is a top priority for me.”

Raught, who is from the Greater Richmond area, joined DCPS while working for Teach for America and while pursuing her master’s degree from American University.

Around 2009, she was in her second year of Teach for America and was teaching a class at McKinley about how to write research papers. She had her students research a current social issue and build an argument for a potential solution. Within that lesson, she taught texts that were both for and against marriage equality, providing students a wide range of opinions and resources.

“After my lesson on marriage equality, a student of mine named Uneka came up to me and said, ‘Ms. Raught you seem cool with gay people. Can you help me start a GSA here?’” Raught said.

Raught told Uneka that she was “cool with all types of people” and that she would be happy to sponsor the club.

“I wrote up a charter, presented it to my principal, who was very supportive, and off we were, planning activities and events,” she said. “Uneka served as our GSA president and has had successors who thrive in the student leadership role.”

Every year since, she said, the school’s GSA celebrates No Name Calling Week, Ally Week, Transgender Day of Remembrance, youth pride and other meaningful LGBT events.

“It’s transformed our school culture,” she said.

A couple years after launching the GSA, the school system invited Raught to participate in its anti-bullying advisory committee, through which she was able to inform policy initiatives to ensure that schools are safe and inclusive.

She also now serves as a LGBT liaison for DCPS, working with other educators to share resources and strategies in support of students.

“Many of my students are LGBT youth of color, who are often marginalized and overlooked in society. Our efforts aim at creating a safe, inclusive space for all students,” she said. “Research shows that LGBTQ youth of color in particular face persistent and frequent harassment and bias-based bullying from peers and school staff as well as increased surveillance and policing.”

“They have relatively greater incidents of harsh school discipline, and are disproportionately impacted by the school to prison pipeline, which pushes students out of the education system,” she continued. “All students can experience these issues, but understanding how these issues affect the community in which I choose to teach is an integral part of our success as a GSA here in D.C. and abroad.”

In addition to her work in the classroom, Raught blogs for the Huffington Post about best practices, and her experiences as an educator and supporter of LGBT youth.

“I truly believe in a day where all students, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education,” she said. “I am proud to be a VCU alumna, and an alumna of the Teach for America program.”

 

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