One morning last month, students at Trinity School gathered together and raised their hands, patiently waiting to participate in a discussion that centered on rainbow flags that have been stolen from the church that sits in front of their elementary school in Menlo Park. St. Bede's Episcopal Church, located at 2650 Sand Hill Road, has replaced three rainbow flags, hung to support the LGBTQ community, since 2016, including two in August, according to the church.
Head of School Matt Allio decided to turn the incident into lesson plans on activism for about 30 fourth and fifth graders.
"The nature of the mystery struck me as one to discuss with our older, Grade Four and Grade Five students," wrote Allio, who joined Trinity School in July 2018, in a Sept. 25 blog post. "As adults, we have a frame of reference for understanding the symbolism of the flag itself – a symbol of LGBTQ activism, a beacon of inclusion and peace, perhaps even a bit about its origin with Harvey Milk. Our students' understanding varies, but I wanted to frame my discussion with them using a rubric centered around activism."
Trinity students are encouraged to thoughtfully question the status quo and be leaders, Allio said. School officials encourage students to be capable of making social change, first by learning about a topic, then by acting and organizing others.
"It's not about being rebellious or reactive, it's just a good education," he said.
During a lesson in October, Allio reviewed the facts about the stolen rainbow flags. He also reviewed the history of the rainbow pride flag, including that it was first flown in 1978 in San Francisco. He asked students if they think there is any action they can take regarding the missing flags.
Students proposed leaving The Almanac's previous article on the flag theft next to the current flag so the thief could understand the significance of his or her actions, and leaving a note politely asking the person to stop taking the flag.
Another wondered if whoever took the flags had a bad experience with someone in the LGBTQ community and acted in rage against the community. One student suggested ascertaining whether there is a pattern regarding the time the flag is being stolen.
"I could sit there (by the flag) 24 hours a day and make my whole life about the flag, but that wouldn't be a good use of my time," Allio told the students.
He asked students to ponder what they could do beyond protecting the flag – perhaps figuring out ways to protect the rights of other people. Just being informed and knowing about other groups is a good first step, he said.
"Before you form opinions, get the facts straight," Allio said.
One student noted that she'd like to raise awareness about the stolen flags and make it clear to people that even if they don't like the LGBTQ community, they shouldn't steal rainbow flags.
"We should let them know that if they take the flag it won't bother us; we'll still be LGBT-friendly," said a student named Caroline.
There is no word on any suspects, and the flag has remained in place since the last theft in August, said St. Bebe's Rev. Gia Hayes-Martin in a Nov. 2 email.
"The 'mystery' of the missing Rainbow Flag has not been solved," said Allio in his blog post. "I believe this singular example can serve to illuminate our responsibilities as educators – and partners with parents in the education of the children – to truly view education in the fullest sense. To make education a pathway to deeper analytical thought, to foster a sense of informed action, and for students, ultimately, to view their education as an activist, or changemaker, would."