YWCA’s Heritage Panel and Healthy Relationships Programs

September 11, 2013

We’re at the beginning of another school year, and while students are getting back into the flow, the YWCA is gearing up as well with two programs to promote social justice and encourage healthy dating relationships.

Heritage Panel, a social justice program, empowers middle and high school students to become leaders in making their schools more welcoming, accepting places for their classmates. Teachers and administrators also gain crucial knowledge on how to teach conflict management.

Heritage Panel starts with a fun yet intensive two-day training for a diverse group of students, teachers and administrators who make a commitment to discourage bullying, harassment and discrimination at their school. Throughout the training, teachers and students discuss important but often ignored issues that affect individual experiences at school - issues like cliques, race, gender, sexual orientation and exclusion. After the training, students share what they have learned by giving presentations to their fellow classmates.

“No one understands the social climate of a school more than the students who go there. Heritage Panel recognizes the students' insight, encourages students to dream together about a school climate that is inclusive and welcoming to all, and empowers students to make the changes that only students can make,” says Joan Witherspoon-Norris, Director of Social Justice.

One participant from Homewood High School shared, “I think that I will be more aware of discrimination from day to day, and be more prepared to stand against it.”  Another student, from Leeds High School, took away the skills he needed to better understand his peers, “I will gain a deeper knowledge of the things that connect us as human beings.”

Witherspoon-Norris goes on to say, “The YWCA is proud to offer the Heritage Panel program, which got its start in 1999 with the National Conference for Community and Justice of Alabama. It is a privilege to work with dedicated students and educators who stick their necks out for others and work for fairness and kindness at their schools.”  Currently, 13 schools have the Heritage Panel program.

Another program for area middle and high schools is the YWCA’s Healthy Relationships. The program utilizes the Safe Dates curriculum, an evidence-based curriculum that has been designated as a model program by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It was selected for the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP), receiving high ratings on all criteria.

Amanda Carmichael, Assistant Director of Domestic Violence Services at the YWCA explains, “It is critically important for teens and pre-teens to be educated on what healthy and unhealthy relationships really look like. Safe Dates is an interactive, fun program designed to prevent teen dating violence by educating teens on the hallmarks of healthy relationships.”

One administrator from P.D. Jackson-Olin High School expressed his gratitude for the program being available for the students saying “I am truly impressed with the lesson and the result that it brought for my students!”  A student participant explained her experience, “I learned a lot about dating relationships and being able to recognize the ‘red flags’ of being abused in a relationship.”

Both programs are primarily implemented by AmeriCorps members whose service is made possible by a grant from the Corporation for National Community Service through Serve Alabama.  If you would like to provide these programs to your school, please follow these links for more information on Heritage Panel and Healthy Relationships.

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