Sometimes a person has to be flexible – and no one understands this better than Faye Wilson, a parent involvement specialist for the Wicomico County Board of Education in Salisbury, Maryland. Since going through the WhyTry training in May of last year, Faye has implemented WhyTry in a middle school after-school program, at an elementary summer camp, with a choir/dance ensemble, in a one-on-one teen mentoring setting, and with groups of adults as a seminar teacher for her church. Needless to say, Faye Wilson is a woman of many hats.
That’s why, when it comes to teaching the WhyTry lessons, Faye is not afraid to diverge from the exact lesson outline and cater the program to the needs of the group she’s working with. Here are a few of the tried and true ways she’s “split off” from the lesson ideas in the WhyTry teacher’s manual.
The Reality Ride
A popular activity in WhyTry’s first lesson is called “The Keys to Staying on Track.” It involves having team members touch numbered pieces of cardstock in order in as little time as possible. Faye suggests using words to a song (She likes Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star) instead of numbers. “I suggest that for younger children a nursery rhyme or school song, or even a motto that you want them to learn, might be a motivating factor for them to play this game.” And for the adults? “I have even used this with adults,” she says. “And they are in a huddle strategizing like you wouldn’t believe.”
Tearing Off Labels
Generally in “Tearing Off Your Label,” students are encouraged to give themselves a positive label. Faye likes to mix this up by putting everyone’s name in a box and having each student draw a name. They are then instructed to create a positive label for that person. “We ask them to write down positive words that come to mind, and we review them,” says Faye. “They also know if they choose not to be positive, they also will not receive the positive feedback/label that someone has developed for them.”
The Motivation Formula
Instead of simply showing the WhyTry visual analogy “The Motivation Formula” and moving on, Faye encourages her class to draw their own river and dams, then gives them the option to share their art with the class. “This is a great exercise to give the class artists a time to shine,” says Faye, adding, “I always show them MY rough sample so they will know it’s OK for theirs to ‘rough and gruff.’”
The “Climbing Out” lesson is a picture of crabs in a pot, pulling each other down as a representation of peer pressure from friends. “Around here when we catch crabs, we often put them in a bushel basket,” says Faye. To help the students relate the visual to their own experience, she brings in a variety of pots and baskets with different items in them. “They are asked to get the item out, using only their left little finger or a fork between their teeth,” explains Faye. This helps demonstrate that some pots are more difficult to get out of than others, and it also creates a nice tie-in to “Desire, Time, and Effort” and “The Reality Ride.”
Desire, Time, and Effort
WhyTry’s “Desire, Time, and Effort” visual is a difficult maze that shows students the importance of hard work to succeed in life. Faye likes to share the biographies of famous people her students are familiar with, such as LL Cool J, Michael Oher, or Venus Williams, and have her students identify the “desire, time, and effort” those people put in to be successful.
Lift the Weight
WhyTry’s “Lift the Weight” lesson teaches students that laws and rules make us stronger, and Faye likes to help her students see how this applies in real life. “I have them brainstorm some ‘terrible’ news (either from TV, Internet, or school),” she says. “We talk about what rules were broken (at that moment or earlier in life). Then we talk about what might have been different if they had chosen the HARD things, and we identify those: walk away from a situation, choose a different friend, not being ‘smart’ with the teacher or police officer.”
Faye also uses a team-building STEM activity to teach this principle, giving each team four sheets of paper and encouraging them to use their paper build the tallest tower. She explains, “I share that we can lift a lot more weight just as we can get that tower higher – when we work together, observe the rules of physics (or the environment), and exercise some patience.”
Get Plugged In
The “Get Plugged In” lesson emphasizes the importance of having a variety of positive connections, and uses the examples parent/guardian, positive friend, teacher/counselor/school official, positive mentor, and something that inspires or motivates you to do good. Faye divides the categories into envelopes and gives each student one, then challenges them to describe in 1-2 sentences a positive connection in their life that falls into that category. For example, “Lynette is my positive friend because she always tells me that I can do things.”
Recently, Faye’s class presented an overview of WhyTry to a group of AmeriCorps volunteers, and asked everyone to share the name of someone to whom they are “plugged in.” Three of the 11 people shared the name of one specific volunteer who has made a difference to them. “It was quite emotional,” Faye says of the exercise.
Faye says she is always looking for ways to reach her students, and WhyTry has given her additional tools to help her in her work. After meeting WhyTry Founder Christian Moore last year, she says, “I saw how these visuals and activities would help youth in particular think and reflect on their lives. Some students do not have family support…”
She continues, “I understand Christian’s premise that students need to be empowered, they need to practice skills of resiliency. I also believe that if more parents understand and use these skills in their own lives, they will be more effective, caring, and consistent parents. They won’t be easily rattled. They’ll be able to share with their children, ‘Dad’s in a flood plain, but these are the lifelines being thrown to me and I’m going to make it out.’”