learn / 2014

Project SPIN: Suicide Prevention Intervention Now

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Los Angeles LGBT Center

Project SPIN is a bold initiative to bring systemic changes to school communities that will end conditions that contribute to LGBTQ suicide.


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Project SPIN is a bold initiative to bring systemic changes to school communities that will end conditions that contribute to LGBTQ suicide.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a population of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • All of the Los Angeles Unified School District

What is your idea/project in more detail?

PROJECT SPIN (Suicide Prevention Intervention Now) is a bold initiative by leaders of the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles LGBT Center to bring systemic change to end conditions that contribute to LGBTQ youth suicide and suicide ideation in the district’s schools. The project seeks to create LGBTQ-affirming environments in all schools, communities, and homes, as well as address the presence of homophobia and transphobia through Los Angeles’s public school system. We believe this large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive approach is the only one of its kind in the country.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

Project SPIN’s main focus areas include Policy and Advocacy (developing inclusive policies and best practices for systemic change), Mental Health Care Coordination and Support (support LGBT students with crisis support and resources), Safe Schools (continuing to work with schools to develop a comprehensive approach to addressing hostile environments, promoting connectedness, and building a culture of kindness), Transgender Support (support districts in developing policies that enumerate gender identity and gender expression), and Capacity Building (build capacity to create safe and affirming school environments). One of the most prominent of these programmatic elements is the 2013 launch the Out for Safe Schools Campaign – a collaboration between LAUSD, The California Endowment, and other organizations to create OUT for Safe Schools badges to demonstrate visible support of the LGBTQ community by LAUSD staff. The badges have the word “ally” in seven languages, which provide an opportunity for school site personnel to declare that they support LGBTQ youth. With last year’s launch of OUT for Safe Schools, nearly 50 LAUSD staff and students filmed I’m Coming OUT for Safe Schools Public Service Announcements, including the LAUSD Superintendent, chief of school police, bus drivers, students, teachers, principals, parents, grandparents and many more – reaching an audience of 15 million with national media exposure. More than 30,000 badges distributed to 1/3 of all LAUSD staff and administration.

The District and the Center recognize the critical importance of SPIN’s anti-bullying education and programs in addressing these issues. But we also know that the bullying of LGBTQ youths and other psychological acts of brutality in school are usually at the end of a long chain of societal homophobia and transphobia that has battered the self-esteem of young people long before they arrive at the schoolyard. A serious approach to protecting all students and decreasing suicidal ideation requires a comprehensive approach by school systems that incorporates anti-bullying efforts as well as collaborative partnerships with parents, mental health providers, social services agencies, and law enforcement and religious organizations. This is exactly the approach that Project SPIN is taking, closing in on its goal of genuine systemic change that can be replicated across the nation.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to LEARN today? In 2050?

LAUSD is the nation’s second largest school district and has been a leader in addressing issues facing LGBTQ youth for many years and has initiated innovative programs in this area. The Los Angeles LGBT Center is the largest LGBT organization in the world and has been at the forefront in offering services to LGBTQ youth and, in particular, at-risk youth. By working with LAUSD and in collaboration with a variety of other organizations and communities, Project SPIN will collectively create an environment in all district schools where students feel safe to come to school, be true to themselves, and advance in both their education and careers. Project SPIN’s curriculum and response training, systemic and policy restructuring, and unified support of all people in our community can create a 2050 Los Angeles where mindsets are shifted, equality is achieved, and internal happiness and justice is restored for the marginalized youth that are presently suffering so many deficits. Our staff works relentlessly and with the utmost passion to create transformational impact that will allow our youth to be given the opportunity to reach their fullest potential and to become future leaders one day.

Whom will your project benefit?

This project will benefit all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth, as well as other youth in LAUSD who will benefit from the creation of a genuine safe space in their school community. LGBTQ students in particular are at far greater risk of dropping out of school and they experience depression, violence, harassment, substance use and addiction, homelessness, HIV infection, and the ultimate tragedy – suicide – at much higher rates than their heterosexual counterparts. Together with LAUSD, we want to ensure we are working collaboratively to support our students and staff sending the message that it’s safe to be you in our schools. In addition, Project SPIN will benefit many other members of our community – teachers, principals, families, police officers, bus drivers, and the other individuals that will be given the tools necessary to create a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTQ youth.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Project SPIN’s main collaboration partner is the Los Angeles Unified School District –a partner since the beginning of its existence. Working with LAUSD allows us to take our mission for Project SPIN and implement it in the more than 1,200 schools that are a part of the District. With their support, we are able to create systemic changes on a larger platform, leaving a lasting impact for future generations in the public school system. The factors critical to the success of our collaboration include funding for resources and implementation, prior success in the work that we do, and a unified belief in Project SPIN’s mission.

In addition to LAUSD and The Los Angeles LGBT Center, the SPIN effort includes the collaboration of the GSA Network, the Trevor Project, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, Trans Youth Family Allies, the ACLU of Southern California, the Latino Equality Alliance, PFLAG, the L.A. County Dept. of Mental Health (DMH), the Los Angeles Police Dept. and a dozen other organizations. Representatives of these groups meet regularly and developing an action plans to reduce homophobia and transphobia in district schools and get young people the support they need. Project SPIN brings together agencies that are primarily focused on mental health (DidiHirsch and DMH) as well as LGBTQ-specific agencies to bridge the gaps in supporting schools and build stronger collaborations.

We have also partnered bargaining units (SEIU, UTLA, and ALAA), GSA Network, and others to produce our OUT for Safe Schools badges – part of the OUT for Safe Schools Campaign. All of the partners listed are confirmed and were part of last year’s Project SPIN campaign.

Lastly, Project SPIN has recently partnered with ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California to develop educational materials for implementation of the California FAIR Education Act (2011). In June of 2014, Project SPIN created a resource guide of inclusive curriculum that teachers can use as supplement to textbooks.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Learn” metrics?

  • Youth unemployment and underemployment
  • District-wide graduation rates
  • Students perceived sense of safety at and on the way to school (Dream Metric)
  • Suicide Awareness and Prevention among LGBTQ and marginalized youth

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Project SPIN focuses in four areas to achieve the above metrics: • Inclusive and affirming school policies • Informed mental health services • Build capacity with all stakeholders • Integrated curriculum and instruction

LGBTQ students are at a far greater risk of dropping out of school as a result of depression, violence, harassment, substance abuse, addiction, homelessness, and HIV infection. By working to provide a supportive and friendly environment for all LGBTQ and marginalized youth, students will be more inclined to attend school and stay focused on their education. As a result, this will lead to increases in youth employment and graduation rates, as well as a perceived sense of safety at and on the way to school. There are a variety of ways Project SPIN will enable students to be more successful in their career and academics and feel safer day to day: by working on policy and consulting on ways to make schools safer with leaders throughout the system, garnering visible support through the Coming OUT for Safe Schools Campaign, creating kits and resources for administrators, and training all members of the community on issues ranging from LGBT sensitivity to awareness to suicide prevention. In addition, SPIN works with decision makers to draw awareness to systemic issues and are able to provide critical support in a district already low on resources.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

For all of the trainings done in LAUSD schools, evaluation tools are implemented including a pre and post-survey of the training. In addition, the number of people who attend the curriculum trainings, their role, and what school they come from are all documented. We collect this and other follow-up information to hold all people working in the district accountable for Project SPIN’s goals.

For the OUT for Safe Schools campaign, an assessment is given to the eight board members of the Los Angeles Unified School District to share with their school in order to evaluate the impact Project SPIN is having on their schools, including anecdotal stories. Surveys are also given to the athletic department including gaining data from coaches, PE teachers, and PE aids. All surveys created to evaluate Project SPIN were made using evidence-based metrics for safe environments in schools, which were reviewed and approved by district personnel. Once all data is collected, Project SPIN staff review and analyze the data to determine the success of the programs being implemented and report on the results. Once analyzed and trending themes are established, we incorporate our findings into restructuring the programming and curriculum for future use.

To determine the success of Project SPIN, four measurable metrics have been created. One is to increase the number of badges distributed to LAUSD for OUT For Safe Schools by 20,000 – last year, 30,000 LAUSD staff wore the badge (33.3% of the entire LAUSD staff) and this year, we aim to have 50,000 staff support the campaign – 50% of LAUSD. Another metric is to increase the number of trainings and capacity building increasing by 30% the number of schools we work with (primarily in Elementary Schools) and to reach 100% of all staff in the athletic department in LAUSD. We also aim to engage 3 new student leadership groups to empower and incorporate youth who are active in their schools.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

One of the most impactful lessons that informed and inspired Project SPIN was GLSEN’s (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) research on LGBTQ bullying in public schools by California Safe Schools Coalition on understanding the differences between schools in overall LGBT safety. They released a study that indicated increased visible representation and allies led to a drastic decrease of both violence and harassment of LGBTQ youth in public schools. They also found a correlation between school safety and student well-being and academic achievement. As described by Author Russell, S. T., McGuire, J. K., & Laub, C. (2009), “Data are from the California Safe Schools Coalition School Climate Surveys, which were collected by students in seventeen public schools between 2003 and 2006, yielding over 6,000 surveys. The students who collected the data were typically GSA student leaders or members. The surveys were designed to study the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning high school students and their straight allies, and the steps schools can take to make schools safer. The surveys were developed and administered by the Gay-Straight Alliance Network.”

In addition, an organization called Family Acceptance Project produced research that specified LGBTQ youth were 8 times less likely to have depression, mental health issues, or attempt suicide if they have at least 1 supportive person in their life. Research indicates that 10.7% of our students may be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Another 16% have LGBT family members. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also released a study indicating 8 out of 10 LGBTQ students have been verbally harassed and 6 out of 10 have been physically harassed, while over 25% of LGBTQ youth reportedly missed classes or days of school because of feeling unsafe in their school environment. In addition, LGBTQ youth are 2 to 3 times more likely to commit suicide than other youths, and 30% of all completed youth suicides are related to the issue of sexual identity.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

SPIN has been operating with unprecedented levels of success, and is undertaking the project goals outlined here with the experience and capacity to achieve them (and the almost guaranteed potential to grow and expand beyond LAUSD). Both LAUSD and The Los Angeles LGBT Center are committed partners in achieving SPIN’s goals, dedicated and tied to a long-term relationship to create systemic shifts in the public school environment. With such support, we feel that our OUT For Safe Schools Campaign goals are achievable and we aim to continue to expand SPIN’s momentous work and research.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

One of Project SPIN’s major challenges is responding to hesitance or lack of confidence from individual school administrators who are unsure of how to take a lead in creating safe schools for LGBTQ students. An example of this was the hesitance by some Elementary school administrations to not distribute the ally badges in their schools during last year’s launch, stating that “LGBTQ issues don’t really exist in elementary schools, only in middle and high schools” To remedy this situation, staff from SPIN are focusing their outreach on Elementary schools specifically (a 30% increase is our goal for the year), creating an Elementary School tool kit for staff and administration, and creating public service announcements with Elementary school children. Creating age-appropriate language will give administrators the necessary tools and support to have these dialogues in Elementary schools and teaching our students respect for all from starting in Elementary school. SPIN’s staff will be prepared to engage in an open dialogue with any LAUSD official willing to learn more about our work and goals.

Another unique challenge is having the capacity to respond to the growing demand for Project SPIN’s and OUT For Safe Schools campaign’s deliverables. The call for our resources, trainings, and badges are at risk of outweighing what staff from the program is capable of providing. An example of this demand is the growing number of Unified School Districts that want to be a part of OUT For Safe Schools, including New York City Board of Education, the School Board of Miami, San Diego Unified School District, Oakland Unified School District, San Francisco Unified School District, Boston Public Schools, Chicago Public Schools, Houston Independent School District, and many more. A strategy for dealing with the growing excitement and demand for Project SPIN would be to hire additional staff to support the program and meet this demand, as well as increase the capacity to build relationships with school staff that supports their leadership. We are currently discussing internally if this is the direction we want to take our campaign and fundraising initiatives that could make this possible.

What resources does your project need?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Education/training
  • Quality improvement research