EDISON — Come Sept. 10, schools in the Edison School District will pilot the Wingman program, a youth-led social and emotional learning experience, in memory of Dylan Hockley, one of the first grade victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., six years ago.
“We have finished three days of teacher training for the impending program,” Board of Education Vice President Beth Moroney said at a meeting on July 30. “This is a program brought to us by [Dylan’s father] Ian Hockley. Mr. Hockley has devoted his whole life [since losing his son] to making the lives of children safer and better.”
Wingman for Schools, according to its website, is a year-long cycle of experiential activities that is student-led and delivered in the classroom. The program seeks to counter the root causes of rejection, exclusion and isolation with increased empathy and compassion. Students are empowered to take the lead in their school’s climate.
The program was developed through Dylan’s Wings of Change, a foundation dedicated to the memory of Dylan Hockley, who was one of 20 children fatally shot during the tragedy on Dec. 14, 2012. Dylan, according to the website, had autism and was able to navigate the world and enjoy life so much more when those around him would step up and be his wingman.
Moroney said the program is the social and emotional piece the board believes is important for school safety.
“We don’t only want to put people with guns in our buildings to protect our children, we want to help the children respect each other and live better lives,” she said.
Moroney said the Wingman program is a student-geared program with teacher champions who have volunteered their time to help the students.
“The kids will be teaching the kids and this is a program to teach empathy to help students identify adults whom they can trust and go to in case there is a problem in the school and to improve the school climate,” she said.
“I have done all the training and all we did was laugh and have fun and remember what it is like to be children. That is the most important component because in order for this to be successful, the adults involved have to think like a kid,” Moroney said.
Herbert Hoover Middle School will be the first school to start, followed by Edison High School.
Moroney said students will design activities to address specific needs, such as anti-bullying activities or stress relief activities in the school.
“On the elementary school level, the program is scripted so it’s much more across the board for everyone,” she said. “The little guys really aren’t capable of identifying what is wrong in the school climate.”
Moroney said her fellow board members and Superintendent of Schools Richard O’Malley supported the move to pilot the program in Edison’s schools.
Board President Jerry Shi thanked Moroney for taking on the initiative and the lead for the program.
“I think moving forward, it will have a very positive, long-term effect in all the schools in the district,” Shi said. “I encourage all the principals and staff to work with [Moroney] and the trainers to get familiar with the program.”
Moroney and Shi said they welcome other school districts who are interested in the program for training.