Sixty students from Drury High School in North Adams and Pittsfield High School are being tapped to help make changes on the domestic violence front, with support from the state attorney general and the New England Patriots.
With Domestic Violence Awareness Month days away, state Attorney General Maura Healey announced this week that Drury and PHS are among the 34 high schools from 10 counties across the commonwealth selected this school year to participate in an on-site, in-depth "Game Change" training program on violence prevention.
Initiated last year, Game Change is part of a $1.5 million domestic violence and sexual assault prevention initiative developed by the Robert Kraft Family and the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation. Game Change itself is funded with $500,000 in foundation funds and $150,000 from the Attorney General's Office.
"With Game Change, our goal is to stop cycles of violence by intervening at an early age," Healey said in a press statement. The attorney general, when launching the program last year, expressed concern with the statistic that one in three young people has experienced physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse in a relationship.
With Game Change, Healey said, "We're teaching young people about healthy relationships, empowering them to treat each other with respect, and giving them the tools they need to prevent and address relationship violence in their own lives and in their communities."
Staff from 90 schools — including PHS and Drury — participated in the inaugural training phase for school staff during the 2015-16 school year. PHS psychology teacher, Lori Murphy, and English teacher, Stephen Collingsworth, were among those who participated in a regional three-day training held at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and left with a changed perspective.
"Every second of it was interesting, captivating, and made adults reflect on the way we talk about relationships and the language that people use," Murphy said. During one training conversation, it was discussed how the word "bitch" has become normalized, and how both females and males use the word in different contexts.
"The training teaches us how to examine our own beliefs and attitudes," she said.
Which is why PHS Principal Matthew Bishop said he believes the program will be beneficial to the school. Both the district and school have a school improvement goal to better school climate and provide "a more sensitive cultural environment" for students and staff.
Tim Callahan, interim principal at Drury, said his school has similar goals to reach out to staff and students and encouraged them to be more involved in the process of improving school climate.
"A lot of focus this year in the school is helping to build climate and student leadership, to create and sustain a positive atmosphere," Callahan said. "So this kind of program fits precisely with what we're trying to do."
Because of this, both high schools, after the initial training, applied to participate in this year's "Phase 2" training for students.
At each of this year's 34 participating schools, 30 students selected to represent the school will be trained as peer leaders by staff from the national Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University, a main Game Change partner.
Both Drury and PHS are picking a diverse range of students — underclassmen and upperclassmen, athletes and non-athletes, current and aspiring leaders — to take part in the program.
PHS will do its training Oct. 18-20. Drury will implement its training later in the school year. Both students and parents had a choice to opt-out, but Murphy said no one has yet chosen not to participate.
Bishop said the issue of dating violence and abuse is something that affects area teens, whether they're victims of or witnesses to it.
"It may not always be physical, it can be emotional too," he said. "For most people who work with young adults, this is a topic that comes up."
The training will focus on how students can help prevent relationship violence and sexual assault by talking to other students about developing healthy relationships and how to step up and get help if someone they know might be in an abusive relationship. Students will also learn how to work with educators and coaches at their school, and with staff from their local sexual assault and domestic violence service provider, to implement and sustain the MVP curriculum through years to come.
"We are excited to continue our work with Attorney General Healey and her team to prevent relationship violence, particularly among young people," said Patriots Chairman and CEO Bob Kraft in a press statement. "We need to tackle this problem from all angles — through preventive measures like Game Change, and by providing resources for survivors in the aftermath of trauma."
On the web ...
Learn more at mass.gov/ago/about-the-ago/ago-grants/game-change.html