2017-01-13 / Community

Schools launch violence prevention training

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

SCARBOROUGH – Derogatory comments about women from one of the Presidential candidates was front and center in this season’s election coverage and through a partnership with Maine Boys to Men, Scarborough schools are instituting a program that would cease this sort of thinking in its young students, especially the middle and high school boys.

Superintendent Julie Kukenberger said she was introduced to Maine Boys to Men’s RSVP (Reducing Sexism and Violence Program) by the Scarborough Kindness Project, a group formed in 2016 to create a friendlier climate in town.

“We are excited about this because we recognize our students are dealing with a lot of challenging social issues,” Kukenberger said.

The program will kick off later this month when the program visits with Scarborough Middle School’s 150 eighth-grade boys between Jan. 13 and Jan. 27. Program Manager Heidi Randall said RSVP is aimed at ending gender-based violence and sexism and helping to ease the transition from youth to adulthood by supporting the emotional health of boys.

The program, which is free to the district thanks to funding from The United States Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, will be introduced to Scarborough High School Jan. 30 and Jan. 31 during which time 40 boys and girls at the school will be selected to undergo 12 hours of training. In the end the students will be part of a group that organizes activities and programming for their peers and members of the community.

According to Maine Boys to Men, the RSVP High School Program “empowers students to play a central role in confronting sexist attitude and behaviors that are limiting and harmful to boys, girls, men and women.”

Topics addressed in the high school training include gender as a social construct; stereotypes; building true strength through healthy masculinity; strengthening emotions; healthy communications; sexuality, healthy boundaries and consent; cyber abuse; sexual harassment; gender-based violence; healthy relationships and bystander intervention and leadership.

Board member Donna Beeley said these are important topics for Scarborough students to have.

“Even though our kids grow and develop just as we have for years, the difference now is the world has changed and our kids, especially at the middle school and high school are bombarded with a variety of ideas that may not be appropriate for them,” she said. “A program like this brings it to the floor, brings it to the discussion.”

Randall said putting students in charge of leading this effort is important. Scarborough High School Latin teacher Michelle Shupp and English teacher Richard Wesley will assist the students.

“Young people listen to young people more so to make systematic change, it’s really important to have it be a youth-powered change,” Randall told members of the board of education last week. The intent is to make sure that 40-student group is as diverse and representative of the high school as possible. The group, Kukenberger said will include a cross section of grades and groups at the high school “so the messages are getting out to all aspects of our high school community.”

During February, the student group will be meeting to plan activities and connect with school leadership and staff. One event has already been planned. “The Mask You Live In,” a film about how Americans define masculinity, will be screened at 7 p.m. on March 1 in the high school auditorium.

Randall said Maine Boys to Men has worked with 12 high schools in Maine, including South Portland High School in 2016.

“I think it will be a great program for us and it is exciting it is coming,” board member Jodi Shea said.

Although the high school program includes girls in the conversation, the middle school one does not. There is an effort is underway to establish a similar program for middle school girls through Hardy Girls Healthy Women.

Both Thomas Vachon, the junior class representative on the board of education, and Lizzie Hobbs, who represents the senior class, said a program like RSVP is needed at the high school.

“My experience in the schools is this is definitely a strong, strong feeling of a mask you have to put on in certain social climates,” Vachon said.

Hobbs said she feels it is frowned upon for male students to talk about topics RSVP tackles. The program, she said, will change that.

Board member Cari Lyford said she is “really excited and enthusiastic about the program” and wanted to make sure it was something that continued after this year. Randall and Kukenberger said that was the intent. Kukenberger said when school administration think about introducing programs in the schools, they strive to chose ones that have staying educational power.

“We want to make sure it isn’t a flash in the pan, one-time event, but something that could continue,” she said.

The hope, Randall said, is to continue to offer it year after year.

“The number of students it will touch in a positive way will have a ripple effect for years,” said board chairman Kelly Murphy.

While the student group members finds ways to launch programming and share what they learned with other students, several events for adults have been penciled in for this spring, including a community discussion for adults in March and a RSVP intensive workshop for adults in April.

Board member Jackie Perry said getting adults involved is an important piece of addressing the issue.

“We need to get the parents involved as well. I am glad we are making that effort,” she said.

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