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Tim+Bjerke+gives+instructions+for+a+notecard+activity+at+a+McCallum+Christian+Community+and+Spectrum+joint+meeting+on+May+4+in+his+classroom.+Students+wrote+a+time+they+had+been+discriminated+against+on+one+side+of+the+card+and+a+time+they+had+acted+in+a+hateful+way+on+the+other+side+of+the+card+before+sharing+with+their+peers.+Photo+by+Madison+Olsen.
Tim Bjerke gives instructions for a notecard activity at a McCallum Christian Community and Spectrum joint meeting on May 4 in his classroom. Students wrote a time they had been discriminated against on one side of the card and a time they had acted in a hateful way on the other side of the card before sharing with their peers. Photo by Madison Olsen.

Tim Bjerke gives instructions for a notecard activity at a McCallum Christian Community and Spectrum joint meeting on May 4 in his classroom. Students wrote a time they had been discriminated against on one side of the card and a time they had acted in a hateful way on the other side of the card before sharing with their peers. Photo by Madison Olsen.

Tim Bjerke gives instructions for a notecard activity at a McCallum Christian Community and Spectrum joint meeting on May 4 in his classroom. Students wrote a time they had been discriminated against on one side of the card and a time they had acted in a hateful way on the other side of the card before sharing with their peers. Photo by Madison Olsen.

Madison Olsen

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At the end of this school year, media teacher and Spectrum adviser Tim Bjerke will retire from teaching and leave McCallum. Bjerke will still be involved in education, however, as he plans to go to graduate school to study social work, potentially at the Youth, Education and Society program at Utrecht University, which is located in the Netherlands.

“I’ll study the social programs put in schools and communities to support kids in the way kids need, rather than the ways they think kids need, which is really important,” Bjerke said.

While Bjerke’s future plans are clear, his departure has caused concern among the students he has mentored in the Gender Identity Club, or GI, and Spectrum, the two support groups for LGBTQ+ students (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning) at McCallum. First-year social studies teacher Lucy Griswold has accepted the role as the new Spectrum adviser, Bjerke said.

He also said that Out Youth, a central Texas program that provides mental and emotional support to sexual and gender minority youth, will take over much of the club’s operation. Out Youth will hold meetings two to three times a week. These groups will be administered by a licensed therapist. Because the program is grant-funded, the meetings will be monitored to ensure they provide a safe place for students and encourage them to explore their identities.

“I think that that’ll be really helpful, and it will give people support that they don’t even have now,” Bjerke said. “That’ll do a lot for people who aren’t even comfortable coming to GI group, and they’ll be comfortable sharing in that smaller setting.”

Although Bjerke believes that future support from Out Youth certainly improves the support groups, he also expressed certainty that student leaders will continue to empower both Spectrum and GI students and continue to make McCallum a safe and accepting community.

“Student leaders are the ones that made [Spectrum] happen,” Bjerke said. “They’re the ones that got people to attend the meetings.”

Although his students are happy for Bjerke, they also are extremely sad to say goodbye.

“I think we’re all going to really miss him because we all really think of Mr. Bjerke more as a friend than a teacher,” junior Ash Etheredge said. “People that aren’t even necessarily his students have gotten to know him as a friend because he’s a really accepting, comforting person to be around. Right now we’re hoping we can find a teacher to host [Spectrum and GI] that’s just as accepting and loving as Mr. Bjerke.”

Bjerke’s students say that he is much more than a friend: he’s a mentor who provides a safe environment for students struggling to find themselves.

“When I started to get confused about my sexuality and gender identity, I didn’t know where to go or who to go to,” Etheredge said. “I started talking to him: he was automatically so accepting of me. Just knowing that he’s there and is willing to listen is very comforting because sometimes there’s not always someone there to listen to you. I don’t feel like I’ve had that relationship with any other teacher. I have gone to talk to him about things going on in my family life that are really hard, or things going on with my friends that are really hard, and he will sit there and listen and try his best to understand. If I’m really upset about something, and I’m struggling with all this stuff in my life, and I don’t know what to do and it feels like everything is going wrong, he’ll provide a sense of comfort.”

Looking back on his years at McCallum, Bjerke is thankful for all the support he has gotten from the administration.

“There’s a lot of really positive people here, who are invested in the McCallum community,” Bjerke said. “We have a relatively small campus and a relatively small faculty and yet look at what we do. We don’t have the money LASA has or the facilities a lot of places have, but so much happens at McCallum that doesn’t happen anywhere else.”

According to Bjerke, principal Mike Garrison deserves most of the credit for supporting the LGBTQ+ community at McCallum, including allowing the GI Group and Spectrum.
“Mr. Garrison has given me a lot of support,” Bjerke said. “He has given me a lot and has put up with a lot. This school is where it is today because of him, and he won’t take credit for it. 11 years ago, just using the word queer was shocking, especially in Texas. Today if you’re queer nobody cares. We have a GI group, and a lot of people don’t even know what that is or what it’s about, but it happens here.”

Although Bjerke seems eager to leave McCallum, he says that there are many reasons, specifically his students, that will make him miss McCallum.

“When I talk to my friends, I talk about my kids,” Bjerke said as tears welled up in his eyes. “I have hundreds of kids. These are my kids and I would do anything for them. I care about every single one of them, even the most annoying ones. They mean so much to me, and they’re so good to me. Through my back surgery, my kids treated me like part of their family. They do wonderful things for me, support me, and put up with me.”

Although goodbyes are often painful, Bjerke is certain this is the right choice.

“I’ve been in Texas for 20 years now and that’s by far the longest I’ve ever been anywhere in my life,” Bjerke said. “I’ve always moved around every couple of years because of my family, but it’s time to move on. My stone has gathered some moss and it must roll on.”

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