To the sound of authentic audio from a NASA countdown, four Connecticut middle schools declared their readiness to launch their Wingman program for the new academic year. It was the opening segment of the empowerment speech from Eddie Slowikowski of Chicago, part of the carefully planned schedule of activities that each school had put together over the summer months.
Suffield Middle School were the first to declare their readiness on the Monday September 12th. The whole school was assembled in their auditorium as the ‘Flight Crew’ of student leaders unveiled Wingman. I shared Dylan’s story, the little boy with autism who needed everyone to look out for him. The little boy who, when others took the time to engage and listen to him then explain things carefully, could be fully included in activities and experience life the way so many children take for granted. I handed over to Eddie who took the Wingman message to the next level, inspiring every in the room to be the best version of themselves and to give of that self to others. Using stories, music and dance Eddie set the scene perfectly for the final act where 4 groups of teachers performed a lip-sync battle that had the students dancing, cheering and laughing in equal parts. At the end of the 2 hours the atmosphere was charged with emotion; one teacher remarked that in 20 years of teaching this was the single most amazing morning she’d experienced in a school building.
Eddie then held a workshop with the Flight Crew, focused on teamwork, bonding and more singing and dancing. It was amazing to see these budding leaders developing their skills through experiential activities. This was the first year that Suffield has enrolled in Wingman and the student leaders have now completed their training that started back in April of the previous school year.
The following day, New Fairfield Middle School took to their own stage. A student rock band kicked off the morning, followed by the ‘PACK’ leadership team running a Q&A session for the crowd of 600 about what it really means to be a Wingman. New Fairfield were one of the program’s founding schools in 2015; they continue to embrace Wingman and innovate in every aspect of its operation. The presentations continued through the morning, Eddie and I had settled into our roles and the energy level was off the charts throughout.
Wednesday was the turn of another school new to the program. Gilmartin in Waterbury has students from grades K-8 and we have accelerated the student leader training to get ready for this year, after first introductions to the school were made in April. As well as another truly memorable launch event it was great to see how the student leaders had bonded so quickly into an effective group, displaying trust and respect for each other and the adults working with them. We were pleased to host guests from the town who saw the engagement and excitement of everyone present, and Fox61 covered the event with an article in the news that night.
The biggest event of the week was reserved for Thursday at City Hill Middle School in Naugatuck, where we would hold two back-to-back assemblies so that all students were able to take part in the full launch experience. City Hill were another of our founding schools and their returning 8th graders took part in Wingman last year. The presentations were adapted to fully unveil the program for the 7th grade, and change up the message for the 8th grade with new stories and a challenge to go above and beyond the achievements of last year. Mayor Hess addressed the 8th grade, encouraging them all to be a Wingman every day. The school also hosted principals and teachers from two other schools in the state who are considering adopting Wingman next year. City Hill continued their launch the following day with a school wide celebration of team work and games on the sports field which was reported in the local media. Representatives from Naugatuck's Police and Fire departments came to the school to help at the event.
I first met Eddie at a Unified Sports conference in 2014 where he was presenting to high school students from across Connecticut. His high energy performance got the crowd really going and when we met afterwards, the Wingman message really resonated with him. Eddie offered to come back to CT and give a presentation for us for free. When I called Eddie in May and said we needed 4 days of presentations and that the budget was limited, he didn’t hesitate. Working with one of his partners – Herff Jones Inc. – Eddie secured full funding for his trip out east. We are very grateful to Herff Jones and all of their local management team who came out to support at every launch event through the week.
There’s more to come. St Ann Academy (Bridgeport), Brownstone Intermediate (Portland) and St Joseph School (Meriden) have their launch parties scheduled for October, putting all seven on their mission to inspire their communities to go above and beyond for each other. Furthermore, this means the work has just begun. Every school has a schedule of activity days running right through the school year where their students will exchange academics and text books for experiential activities on topics as wide ranging as Courage, Persistence, Empathy and Respect. The power of Wingman is that each student leadership team has created the focus areas specific to their school’s needs and what challenges they face to build a strong, inclusive community. We will be visiting all the schools as they carry out their Wingman program and reporting back to you in the new year.
To find out more about Wingman visit the dedicated website or contact us through this form.