To promote inclusion, kindness, empathy and teamwork, Mahopac Middle School kicked off its Wingman program for the second year this week, with guest speaker and program creator Ian Hockley. Hockley, who lost his son, Dylan, in the Sandy Hook shootings, created the program in his son’s memory to train teachers and student leaders on ways to provide a more inclusive school environment. He brought with him co-speaker Eddie Slowikowski, who motivated students through stories and activities.
Hockley spoke of six-year-old Dylan, who was autistic and who benefited greatly when friends were empathetic to his differences. “Dylan was shy,” he said, “and couldn’t get involved in things easily at school. But when people took the time to explain things to him, he would get it, and he would get involved. Those types of people who step in and help—they are wingmen.”
Currently the program is in the tristate area with plans to expand throughout the country. While Hockley trains teachers in the program, he says it is the students who really are the leaders.
“The program really belongs to the them,” said Hockley. “The student leaders are the ones that set the direction for the program and decide on activities and topics.”
Five MMS teachers trained in the Wingman philosophy. Christine McNeill, Melissa Nyikos, Jenifer Maloney, Ginny Gertling and Carol Polimino are working with a number of student leaders to get the program firmly established in the school.
Slowikowski’s presentation, which motivated students with dance moves, sound effects and music, had a profound message: “Each one of you has something that makes you uniquely who you are,” he said. “And you have the opportunity each day to use those talents to do something good for someone else.”