What happened in the Middle School auditorium first thing Monday morning, September 12, was quite extraordinary! The entire seventh and eighth grades gathered to participate in a program dedicated to encouraging them to become “wingmen” to their peers – in fact, as the kick-off memo stated, “to create awareness and acceptance leading to inclusion for everyone.” The program had been created by Dylan’s Wings of Change, a foundation started by the parents of a cherished, autistic first grader murdered in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre. Understandably, the foundation targets attitudes toward those with autism. Suffield Middle is the seventh Connecticut school to join in.
Founder Ian Hockley, Dylan’s father, spoke early on, and many students spoke to explain the Wingman program, but the two-hour introductory session was dominated by Eddie Slowikowski, a nationally renowned ex-athlete motivational speaker who is superb at his trade. Urging, narrating, emoting, singing, dancing, he encouraged participation like a skilled D. J. and dispensed traditional wisdom as he encouraged the students to support their peers, not put them down.
The infectious spirit of the event was supported by many members of the school faculty and support staff, dancing and cavorting and singing (or lip-synching), with music teacher Laura Noonan clearly the star, but a crazily costumed “boy band” of four male teachers was judged best (by audience applause).
Several dozen students in a number of committees, all clad in Wingman “FLIGHT CREW” T-shirts (“We’ve Got Your Back”), had begun planning last year. There are to be three days each year fully devoted to the Wingman program. Challenges will be made; awards will be given. The sixth grade will be incorporated later in the year.
The cost of the kick-off speaker was supported by an industrial sponsor.