NEW FAIRFIELD, Conn. — A program created by the parents of a Sandy Hook shooting victim helped students at New Fairfield Middle School to hone their leadership skills and foster better understanding among students.
Ian and Nicole Hockley, who lost their 6-year-old son Dylan, created Dylan's Wings of Change in his memory. The foundation is committed to helping children with autism and other related conditions achieve their full potential. Out of that, they also developed the Wingman Program and pitched it to New Fairfield Middle School, which ran the program this past school year.
"The Wingman Program is a student-led, youth leadership program in the classrooms, leading their fellow students through a series of activities, discussions reflections on what it means to be a wingman," Ian Hockley said in a visit at the school before the end of the year. "A wingman is someone that goes above and beyond for someone else. They're observant in looking out for problems, things they can help take care of, and really connecting the community here and building it up."
Nicole Hockley said Dylan's older brother, Jake, was his wingman.
"It's very inspiring to see students reaching out and embracing the concept of wingman and delivering that to their peer group. It's very special," she said.
Isabella Scampone, an eighth-grader who is one of the program leaders, said it improves relations among the students.
"It really shows good leadership and understanding. Everybody can be accepted because of Wingman," Scampone said. "We are doing it honor of Dylan."
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., also visited the school in May to check out the program.
"There is a lot of buzz about the Wingman program," Murphy told a sixth-grade class. "People are talking about the program and not just across the state but across the country as a way to really inspire empathy and respect for others in our schools."
Rachel Wilson, an eighth-grade science teacher and a staff adviser, said the Wingman Program has built on leadership initiatives at the school.
"Ian came to us last year and pitched the program to us and a group of our kids and said, 'Can you do this?' and we said, 'Sure,'" she said.
"We already had a leadership group together, but this kind of took it to the next level," she said. The students involved in the leadership roles are proactive and create their own lessons and activities, Wilson said.
Students have embraced the Wingman Program, and Wilson said there is a noticeable difference in the school.
"Reaction from students in the school has been fantastic as well," she said. "There are a lot less referrals [to the office] and kids are being nice to each other."