Teaching Pride

New Rainbow Bridges peer-led program aims to support youth transitioning into high schools

Written by: Jude Ashburn, Rainbow Bridges Coordinator at Youth Ottawa

the big picture

Rainbow Bridges is an experiential, for-youth-by-youth project where high school students involved with GSAs innovate ways to make their schools safer and more inclusive to provide welcoming school transition activities for middle school 2SLGBTQ students entering high school.

Why Rainbow Bridges?

If you are a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, then you are well aware of the challenges faced by queer and trans youth in high school. If you are not a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, then, well, it doesn’t take a PhD to understand that experiencing oppression is bad for your health. While several initiatives have popped up over the years to support 2SLGBTQ+ students as they navigate intersecting forms of oppression at school, the shifting political landscape at the moment ensures that the struggle for safer schools continues.

Rainbow Bridges is as much a response to this ongoing need as it is a response to the high demand from elementary students and teachers to create more opportunities to engage 2SLGBTQ+ students who will be transitioning into a high school setting next year. By leveraging the impact-amplifier of high school to elementary student mentorship, this program creates an opportunity for older students who have already made the transition to share their experiences in support of younger students. We have partnered with Sue Rice, Equity Instructional Coach of Inclusive Education at the OCDSB, and Dorothy Baker, Superintendent of Curriculum Services, to offer this program at participating schools across Ottawa.


The primary objectives of this program are:

  • To engage students in re-envisioning transitions for 2SLGBTQ+ students into high school, in order to provide more equitable and inclusive support for students in elementary sites. As a result, increase student well-being in particular for 2SLGBTQ+ students and in general for all students.


  • To create professional learning and networking opportunities for teachers embedded within families of schools and with students.
  • To provide an opportunity to support students leading and learning, and leveraging the power of high school students to be impact makers for elementary students and demonstrate the care that they have for their community. 


Drawing from the expertise and lived experience of students at alternate sites such as Richard Pfaff, as well as the GSA’s and equity clubs at numerous high schools, Rainbow Bridges will form a series of “community challenges” which will then be presented to participating senior-level classes. The students in these courses will then propose potential “solutions” to these challenges and create a variety of projects aimed at meeting the community’s specified need. The culmination of this work will involve students from feeder schools attending a series of events to present their work and foster connections between elementary and secondary students.

powered by experiential learning

We at Youth Ottawa know that experiential learning is a powerful vehicle for social and community change. It is crucial that marginalized students see themselves reflected on a cultural level, within the curriculum, and within the staff at the schools where they learn; just as it is crucial that we as educators who are committed to amplifying their voices to prioritize systemic change and ongoing professional development. There is no substitute for peer support, nor is there an end to our work of learning, unlearning, and relearning how to be in a caring community with one another.

an authentic moment

I moved to Ottawa just over a year ago and recently completed my Master of Education project about the ongoing work of supporting trans students in public high schools. As an educator who engages with both community-based and formalized education systems, I have found that students tend to learn best when they have chosen to learn something. There are so many ways in which our consent is never sought out by formal education systems, and I truly believe that this cumulative experience can become quite traumatic for many learners who never get the opportunity to develop a sense of agency in their learning because of it. When we are given a choice about what and how we get to learn something, the entire trajectory of our life shifts in rather profound ways because we are able to tell a new story about who we are in the world. The identity of a student can take on new meaning.

–  Jude Ashburn

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Rainbow Bridges launches next Month, and we look forward to sharing our program developments with you. If you would like to hear more about the program, or if you would just like to talk about supporting 2SLGBTQ+ youth in general, please email jude.ashburn@youthottawa.ca. He welcomes all compliments and critique!

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