From Diversity Club to Rainbow Walkway: Kristina Carley's Vision for Inclusive Schools

November 24, 2023

Congratulations to Kristina Carley, recently awarded the 2023 Premier’s Award for Excellence in Education in the Social Equity and Diversity category! In a recent interview, she reflected on the profound influence of her experiences in the Professional Development Program (PDP) and MEd in Curriculum and Instruction: Ecological Education within the Faculty of Education.

Playing a pivotal role in shaping her teaching philosophy, these programs have significantly influenced her approach as Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Lead at University Highlands Elementary. In this role, she focuses on creating inclusive spaces for all students.

From founding the Burnaby School District’s inaugural elementary Diversity Club to working alongside the school principal and student leaders to spearhead the installation of a Rainbow Walkway, Kristina passionately discusses the transformative impact of these initiatives on fostering diversity and equity within the school community.

Q: What inspired you to take on the role of a SOGI Lead?

A: Growing up, it often felt like there were not enough safe spaces to explore our diverse identities and engage in the world around us. Becoming a teacher, I knew these were going to be my priorities – helping students feel safe, welcome, loved, respected, hopeful and empowered. I started by creating those spaces and opportunities in my classroom and then quickly knew I needed to extend them out to the larger school community.

When the role of SOGI Lead was introduced nine years ago, I knew I wanted to be part of supporting staff and students and all the intersections of their identities by understanding how to weave inclusive language and representation throughout the curriculum. Elementary school is where this work needs to start.

Q: What prompted the creation of the Diversity Club you founded, and what specific activities or initiatives does it undertake to foster diversity and inclusivity?

A: Six years ago, I started the first Diversity Club with the help and support of amazing colleagues. Diversity Club is a place for students to gather and feel safe and loved for who they are. It is a space to learn about diverse identities, and to share our own; a place to ask questions, share our experiences, and know we are always welcome. This space also gives students an opportunity to take on leadership roles in their community to create welcoming, inclusive spaces for others. 

By participating in this club, my students have made noticeable changes in our community. Because of Diversity Club’s letter writing and activism, every child at our school is welcomed by our inclusive pride walkway. Because of their care, every June, we raise our inclusive Pride Flag to recognize Pride Month and cover our hallways in messages of inclusive language and celebrating each other.

Q: How did the idea for the school's Rainbow Walkway originate, and what impact has it had on the community?

A: The inspiration for our school’s Rainbow Walkway came from the positive experiences and feelings our Diversity Club had while connecting with high school students at Burnaby Mountain and Burnaby Central Secondary schools. Recognizing the inclusive atmosphere these crosswalks created, we delved into their meaning and history. Motivated by this, as a club, we advocated for a rainbow walkway at our school, reaching out to the school board, trustees, and superintendent through letters. Today, our rainbow walkway warmly welcomes every child and family, and we hope it inspires other elementary schools to adopt similar symbols.

Q: How have your experiences in the PDP and MEd programs influenced and shaped your teaching career?

A: I am grateful for the amazing faculty associates in my Burnaby Community Module in PDP who always created space for me to try things, take action, and prioritize relationships and community. They were the first of many amazing mentors and colleagues on my journey who continue to inspire, support, and encourage me.

In my MEd, I delved deeper into my passion for centering place and creating learning environments that support children and staff in connection and advocacy. My programs and professors provided rich learning opportunities and a supportive place for me to take risks and collaborate. It is my hope to always create these kinds of spaces for my students and community to be themselves and flourish.

Q: Personally, and professionally, what does Social Equity and Diversity mean to you?

A: I want every child to feel safe, welcome, and celebrated at school, empowered to act and truly make a difference. Our students should see themselves and others reflected around them, fostering a sense of belonging and value. We need to weave Indigenous education, SOGI education, anti-racist education and equity work into our teaching, clubs, and school communities. Only then can we ensure all students thrive.

Q: What advice would you offer fellow educators who aspire to make a meaningful impact within their own schools or districts?

A: Along the way, I have had so many amazing people to learn from, collaborate with, and be inspired by. My community helped me to take risks, think big, and to persevere. We need each other, so my advice is to persevere and keep trying. You are making a difference in the lives of your students and your community. Explore how you can listen deeply, collaborate, and dream together.

Q: In light of receiving the Premier’s Award for Social Equity and Diversity, how does this recognition inspire and impact your commitment to centring social equity and diversity in your educational endeavours?

A: Centering social equity and diversity is so important to me as an educator and person, so being recognized for this category is such an immense honour. I felt seen and appreciated by my colleagues and district, and I was excited to be a part of celebrating SOGI, elementary diversity clubs, and student advocacy in environmental stewardship on a larger scale. With the professional development bursary from the award, I am thrilled to have support in pursuing further learning opportunities for myself and my school.

I am so proud of the Burnaby School District’s initiatives and support in these areas. I hope to continue supporting students and staff around the district and the province.