Following two years of vision, hard work, pilot programs and planning, the Wingman for Schools program from Dylan’s Wings of Change is now launched in three Connecticut middle schools. The entire Dylan’s Wings team couldn’t be more excited!
Designed to create a supportive, empathetic social environment within schools, clubs and summer camps—and to help all children recognize their own unique strengths—Wingman is a program that puts an easy framework into place to educate staff and participating children about physical, intellectual and behavioral differences. Wingman leverages leadership principles, peer modeling and positive reinforcement to help kids accept and include their peers regardless of appearance, ability or mobility. In so doing, barriers are dissolved, and every child learns to take responsibility for treating others with respect and kindness.
The Connecticut schools currently implementing Wingman for Schools include New Fairfield Middle School, City Hill Middle School in Naugatuck, and Brownstone Intermediate in Portland. Over 1,500 students will participate in Wingman by spring of 2016—with a portion of those students returning the following year to help lead subsequent classes to their younger peers about important Wingman principles.
In fact, it’s exactly the student-leadership component of the program that makes Wingman unique. “The fact that it’s student-created at the middle-school level is even better,” Joel Pardalis, a faculty adviser for the New Fairfield program, recently told the Danbury News-Times. “An adult can talk until they’re blue in the face, but when you can hear it from your classmates, it’s truly authentic.”
The three middle schools now implementing Wingman will develop what will become the core of the program—and each school will run the program according to what best fits their particular student population. That core may include—as it does in New Fairfield, for example—dedicated Wingman days where student leaders facilitate activities focusing on leadership, respect and social inclusion, and “challenges” where the student body is asked to step up to communitywide action.
“The impact of Wingman is directly related to the enthusiasm of its participating schools, and we’re overjoyed with the middle schools leveraging Wingman right now,” says Ian Hockley, project director for Dylan’s Wings of Change. “We can’t wait to catapult these students’ learning and feedback into Wingman programs at even more schools, clubs and summer camps across the region.”
The goal of Dylan’s Wings of Change is to add six to ten participating Wingman schools annually, funded by grants from corporate and private foundations focused on transforming the landscape of education today.
In parallel, Dylan’s Wings of Change is developing “Wingman for Clubs,” using a gracious $25,000 grant from Autism Speaks received last November. Dylan’s Wings plans to make this available for up to 10 community sports organizations throughout Connecticut at the start of 2016.
Click this Wingman link to learn more about the program, and to ask about implementing a Wingman program at your school or organization. To help support Wingman directly, please donate here.