By Natalie Mack, news editor
This past month, Nantucket High School (NHS) has added a new program called Teen Truth. Teen Truth is a company founded by JC Pohl and Erahm Christopher with a mission to help schools build school culture and empower students’ voices. Established in 2006, as a response to the Columbine school shooting in 1999, Teen Truth is a program that comes to schools across the country and preaches the importance of social-emotional learning. The company provides assemblies and/or the Rising Up program. Nantucket High School decided to pursue both of these options. Pohl came to NHS and spoke with the freshmen, then the juniors, presenting the idea of the Teen Truth Rising Up program while also explaining the importance of social and emotional learning within school systems.
The Teen Truth Rising Up program is designed to teach teens how to develop valuable life skills that will enhance their own development. The lessons/workshops, which are taught by juniors to the freshmen, are designed to build relationships and teach them how to navigate high school. Every other Thursday during advisory time, the juniors go into the freshmen advisories and teach the lessons. On the off Thursdays, the group of coaches get together with the NHS Teen Truth Rising Up program leaders to learn the lesson that they will be teaching and practice it.
At NHS, the program is primarily run by Seanda Bartlett with help from Christopher Miemic and Sherri Lewis Sholler. Sholler was the one who initially researched this program. She felt that it would be “a good way to implement social-emotional learning into our school”. She worked with NHS principal Mandy Vasil as well as various other administrators to launch this program.
The group of selected junior coaches were carefully chosen by NHS guidance counselors with suggestions from teachers. These students were invited to learn more about what they’d be doing before committing to it. The junior potential Teen Truth coaches were not required to commit; however, the freshmen advisories are required to participate in the weekly lessons. In addition, the juniors that did commit to being a coach will receive hours of community service for their time.
Although there have only been four modules so far, Teen Truth coach Hunter Gross expressed the value that he had found in the program thus far: “My time in Teen Truth has gone smoothly. Overall, I’ve found that Teen Truth is important to my growth as a leader and a classmate of future generations of Whalers.”
In agreement with Gross, the Teen Truth coaches and the freshmen alike believe that Teen Truth is highly beneficial to both grade levels. In the same vein, Sholler stated that, “I think that it builds a stronger school community because we are crossing grades. Our goal is to replicate this program next year with the incoming 9th graders.” Furthermore, the program leaders have stressed to the juniors during their coaching sessions that if something isn’t working in the program, they are able to modify it to fit the demeanor of their class that day. This gives them control over the lesson and allows for them to be more personal and better coaches.
So far, the coaches have taught four modules. Although the freshmen knew what the program was from having the assembly, they didn’t know what the specific content of the modules would be. The first module was for the coaches to introduce themselves to their assigned freshmen advisories as well as play the “name toss game”, where students tossed a ball around in a pattern, stating their name and a skill so that the advisories and coaches who would be paired together could get to know one another. This also gave the students a feel for what types of activities they would be doing in this program. For the second module, several activities were done with the freshmen including a human knot exercise as well as a blindfolded walk across the rooms with teams. These two modules made up unit one, focusing on the introduction, the importance of trust, respect, and listening, all values that the program attempts to spread in general.
Although they were fun games, they also contained potent social and emotional lessons. The idea behind them is that the students will understand the concept of trust and how important it is. For the next two modules, the main focus for the students was goals and goal setting. The first module of the goal-setting unit involved student arm wrestling with the goal to receive candy. The point of the lesson was to make them realize that if they worked together to let each other win, they would receive more candy in the end to share. Similar to what they do at the end of every module, the student filled out a worksheet about their long-term goals and how they can achieve them.
When the Teen Truth coaches came back for the next advisory session, they did a similar activity where they listened to a video of a car beeping and counted how many times they heard the horn. The group then discussed what they did to achieve their goal of hearing the horn. Once students answered, coaches transferred that activity into their real-life goals and how they can do similar things to combat anything holding them back or distracting them.
Teen Truth coach Ava Waig feels as though “it’s been helpful for them to look at different aspects of growth and goal setting that they can apply to bigger concepts.” In addition, she expressed that she has “enjoyed being able to help these students realize their goals are in fact achievable and the different things they can do to get to that point.” In saying this, Waig clearly portrayed one of the main focuses of the program, which is to build a connection with the younger students.
While this is only the beginning of this program here at Nantucket High School, the program leaders are hopeful it will be a success and continue on to next year’s junior and freshman classes.