North East Connected

Students are Pride of the town

Schoolchildren celebrated diversity with pride as they presented their creative efforts to dignitaries in the form of dance and art.

Pupils at Longfield Academy, Darlington, marked the end of Pride Month with a demonstration of support for the LGBTQ+ community.

Emotional well-being officer Claire Howlett had set them the challenge of how to embrace the issue of inclusivity using art, dance and the Pride flag.

They responded with a routine to Lady GaGa’s Born This Way before some of the school’s 800 students and a party of guests, including Darlington’s MP Peter Gibson, deputy mayor Anne-Marie Curry, deputy council leader Jonathan Dulston and Coun Jon Clarke, who holds the portfolio for education.

Celebrated dancer, LGBTQ+ ambassador and Darlington Borough councillor Darrien Wright worked with the volunteers on the dance routine.

He said: “We wanted to launch a Smile Group project in schools to provide young people with a safe space to develop the confidence to be themselves. We are really pushing for equality across the board and bringing it into education is really positive. I am really proud of this school.

“Many of the young people who volunteered wanted to stand up for their friends and, while they were nervous about dancing, they did a great job.”

Year 9 student Jess Wood, 14, who worked on the art project, said: “I think it is really important and amazing that children as young as 11 can learn about who they really are and how to express themselves.”

Head of School Nicholas Lindsay said: “Such an initiative would have been very difficult to achieve when I was at school. Thankfully, each generation of society becomes more enlightened and it is great to be part of this historical moment in this town. It’s a pioneering day for us and everyone is behind what we are trying to achieve here for our community, our children and our children’s children.”

Darlington’s relationships, education and sexual health co-ordinator Catherine Shaw said a consultation on the issue had been held with secondary schools across the town. She said: “The aim of the Smile project, which the young people branded, is to empower them to have a voice, encourage inclusivity and also to provide and access support. Going forward this project will help to shape guidance and training for local professionals.”

Mr Gibson added: “It is fantastic to see Pride Month being marked in our schools. As a society we have come on a huge journey once unimaginable when you look back to the 1980s when I was at school.

“It is really important that the community sees what is going on in schools and artwork like this should be on display in the Town Hall and library so people can celebrate diversity in our borough.”

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