The RunDown

The RunDown

From the Archives: GSA Attends Leadership Summit

Photo taken from @riverdellhighschool Instagram
Bergen County’s Welcome Post

On Friday, December 1st, River Dell’s GSA club attended the 5th Annual Youth Leadership Summit at Bergen Community College, constructed by Bergen County.

James J. Tedesco III, Bergen County’s executive, along with the Board of Commissioners, wanted to coordinate every GSA in Bergen County and bring leaders together so that students can learn different ideas to create outreach events and learn how to make a positive impact on their school campus.
The students were assigned to random groups with teen leaders from other schools. They then answered a bunch of questions regarding their GSA clubs, such as the struggles they’ve faced, successes they’ve had, and what leadership means to them.

Jace Gramatges (he/him), co-president of the GSA club, had a very positive experience at the Youth Summit. “It was a big space for leaders to meet other leaders and create communities to look for advice and to contact all the leaders there,” Gramatges explains. “I think my favorite part of the trip was meeting other people and getting to know them from different schools.” Separate from the students, the advisors gathered in a different room and talked about the administrative problems facing the LGBTQ community, such as ideas of bullying, proper pronoun usage, and being out at school, but feeling uncomfortable to be out at home.

Mr. Drywa, the advisor of the GSA club at River Dell, emphasized the importance of these students being understood in our school community, and the significance of educating others. He states, “It’s not so much that River Dell is an unsafe space; it is a very safe space. The issue is when people are not exposed to a lot of LGBT culture, they don’t realize that the things they’re saying could be insensitive- it’s just a part of the heteronormative society that we live in.”

“I think it’s very important for these people to be heard and seen, which is the most important thing, and River Dell has made huge strives,” Mr. Drywa adds. “Mr. Pepe has been very supportive. When he heard they wanted to start a GSA, he was 100% on board. So, River Dell is a very accepting and open community, and the GSA is another step to making it more inclusive and more open and more heard.” As this is the first year of the GSA club, it is rapidly growing with members, as 50-60 students are in the club, and 15-20 students attending meetings each month. Jace sent the initial email about the start of the club to Mr. Pepe in June of 2023, and received confirmation in July to start the GSA in the 2023-2024 school year.

The Youth Summit was a big step toward the right direction for the GSA at River Dell. Maya Sakai-Chem (they/them), co-president of the GSA club, states, “It was definitely positive, and it helped a lot of us to just reaffirm our goals. The thing is, only Bergen County has this Youth Summit. There’s no other kind of teenager-queer leadership kind of meeting ran by the County. It was a beautiful, unique opportunity that really should be expanded more.”

Maya adds, “I think the best part was talking to Mr. Pepe, and another part of that would be seeing all the opportunities our school could potentially use and implement in our school. For example, there may be an LGBTQ education opportunity for sophomore health in the future. It’s not set in stone, but that’s what Mr. Pepe was planning. It’s just good to see the adults and advisors of River Dell are open to some of our ideas, and they’ve made themselves very accessible and I think that was really great to see all the opportunities we can take advantage of.”

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