Program spreads its wings

From left, Alvin Torres, Jill Bodnar, Jeff Bodnar and Lilyana Bodnar share a laugh Saturday night at a macaroni and cheese fundraiser for the Wingman program at City Hill Middle School. The program spreads good will throughout the school community. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

From left, Alvin Torres, Jill Bodnar, Jeff Bodnar and Lilyana Bodnar share a laugh Saturday night at a macaroni and cheese fundraiser for the Wingman program at City Hill Middle School. The program spreads good will throughout the school community. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — A group of City Hill Middle School students completed their mission to make a positive difference among the student body.

The student leaders encouraged teamwork, understanding and listening, empathy and inclusion. They have taught about autism awareness, socio-economic differences, anti-bullying and why it’s important to recognize and embrace each other’s differences.

Now, the City Hill community wants to take the message borough-wide.

The group leading the charge, called Wingman, plans to share good will throughout the community by providing community service to the borough and even creating butterfly gardens throughout town to share beauty.

On Saturday night, the group brought its message of inclusion and community service to more than 200 people at a macaroni and cheese dinner fundraiser at the school. The fundraiser will help the group develop future programs to make a positive impact within the community.

Wingman is an offshoot of Dylan’s Wings of Change, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the memory of Dylan Hockley, a 6-year-old boy killed in the Sandy Hook School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012. The organization, which is run by his father, Ian Hockley, has a mission to help children with autism and other challenges reach their full potential.

The group began its Wingman program, which is where students help other students, at City Hill and three other schools in Connecticut this year.

At City Hill, Wingman has seen dozens of student leaders help hundreds of other students learn how to achieve their full potential, school officials said.

“The program is tremendous,” Principal Eileen Mezzo said. “I love the notion of teaching a character-based curriculum to our students. And I particularly like that it’s the students who are squadron leaders who are actually responsible for designing the lessons and then implementing the lessons.

“We can’t assume that students come with prosocial skills, but we have to take the time to teach them how to treat one another,” she said.

City Hill teacher Sarah Cyr said students grew as individuals and gained a huge sense of community thanks to the Wingman program.

Ian Hockley said help teach students how to go above and beyond in their everyday lives.

“Respect and kindness are so important at the starting point but how do you inspire them to go even further and connect with each other and connect with the community?” he said. “It’s amazing what the students have been able to achieve and how they have been able to inspire one another.”