Having been familiar with the work of iEmpathize, I talked to my principal about bringing The Empower Youth Program to our middle school. When the program was approved this year it was exciting to present the Empower Youth Program to our 8th graders.
I enjoy working at my middle school because, as I often describe it to people, we have a cross section of the general public here — all kinds of people.
Once teachers agreed to use the program in class, we all started to become nervous about talking to kids about it. It felt like something the counselor or the health teacher should be teaching. Especially being my first year teaching 8th grade, I didn’t know what to expect.
We committed to it and promised ourselves we would teach all the modules. We notified parents and received a couple of clarifying questions. Then, ready-or-not, we dove in and spent a week working through the modules and most of the supplemental activities — talking and writing in response to the information.
Most students connected with the program — especially with PJ and Taylor [who are featured in the program’s media and] talk about their life stories. We discovered our nervousness was unfounded. Students were respectful and appropriate, asking thoughtful questions.
At the end of the five modules, we asked students to write a letter to someone about navigating pushes and pulls. Some wrote to adults like coaches or family members. Some wrote to fictitious characters in books or movies. Many students chose to write a letter to a friend. Especially the letters written to friends were so heartfelt, kids hung them up in their lockers so they could see them every day.
In the weeks since, I’ve noticed a distinct change in student behavior. It was not a magic wand solving all distracting behaviors that increase with the end of school so near. More importantly, the Empower Youth Program was a change of mind and a change of heart for many students who now encourage each other and remind each other that it’s hard to make positive choices — but it is even harder recovering from bad choices. I’ve seen students have conversations with new people and include new friends in their group with genuine sincerity.
Life in middle school is still full of interruptions and drama and dilemmas. The difference now is that many of my students are choosing empathy to help each other through it.
Guest Blogger Anne Namuth, M.S., is an 8th grade Language Arts teacher in Broomfield, Colorado. She facilitated The Empower Youth Program along with two other teachers this spring. Anne has been teaching at this middle school for 14 years and is currently completing a terminal degree.
Interested in facilitating the program yourself? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.