Superintendent’s Briefing

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At our June 5 Board of Education Meeting, we will recognize the advising teachers and students of the Suffield Middle School Wingman program. The Wingman program is funded by Dylan’s Wings of Change, a project of the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, established by Ian and Nicole Hockley after tragically losing their 6-year-old son Dylan in the Sandy Hook School shooting. The Wingman program is aligned to our District Improvement Plan, which includes developing a comprehensive social-emotional learning plan resulting in improved student behavior and positive school climate. The Wingman philosophy is simple, yet life altering. The “Wingman youth leadership program inspires all children to go above and beyond and create inclusive communities in their schools, sports clubs, dance studios and more.”

Brian Hendrickson, Assistant Superintendent, participated in the Wingman program as Principal of City Hall Middle School in Naugatuck. When Brian recommended Suffield’s participation to Mr. Pearce, Principal of Suffield Middle School, and me, we knew our teachers would embrace the philosophy and students would benefit.

The Wingman program provides training of teachers and students, and brings in experts such as Jennifer Stanchfield, an experiential learning consultant and Director of Experiential Tools, and Robb Armstrong, a student leadership trainer and Winding Trails Outdoor Adventure Director. The goal is to build a community of “us” rather than a community of “us” and “them” to celebrate our commonalities rather than dwell on our differences.

As Mr. Pearce stated, navigating the social dynamics of the middle school years can be a challenge for students. Students become more aware of their unique differences and interests. This can lead to social fracture, the formation of cliques, or isolation, which can be difficult for students. This social dissonance can result in teasing, bullying, cyber bullying, school avoidance, and more. It’s incumbent upon adults to create a support system to ameliorate such divisions. Dylan’s Wings of Change is different than most social-emotional learning programs because it relies on the involvement of the students to create the solutions. The program is coordinated by two dedicated SMS teachers, Joy Tierney and Stacy Troiano, who assisted in the creation of a student group, referred to as the Flight Crew. Our consultants, Jen and Robb, ran the training together last year in April, the advising teachers took the Flight Crew to Winding Trails in September where Robb ran team-building activities for the day, and Robb provided the training for the new Flight Crew this spring . All of this helped the Flight Crew team build as a group and focus on their strengths as leaders. With guidance, students create and lead monthly whole-school advisories as well as three student take-over days. The goal of these events is to engage students in activities that are designed to directly address social issues at the middle school. Importantly, the program does not seek to create a homogeneous social climate, but rather to build recognition that we are all different and that we need to respect and support all students. The Wingman program’s promotion of “student voice,” the act of listening to students and involving them in solutions, lays the groundwork for civic engagement and responsibility. Our youth is provided the real-life practice of identifying problems in their community and activity working to solve those issues. Learning to be a community of “us,” to create an inclusive community, to problem solve social issues together are exemplary goals for all of us, children and adults.

You can learn more about Dylan’s Wings of Change at

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