Wingman is a youth-led social and emotional learning environment from Dylan’s Wings of Change, a foundation dedicated to the memory of Dylan Hockley, one of the first grade victims of the Sandy Hook School shootings on December 14th, 2012. Dylan had autism, and was able to navigate the world and enjoy life so much more when those around him would step up and be his Wingman.
Wingman had its genesis at the Nutmeg Striders Athletics program in Middlebury, Connecticut. Head coaches Erin and Jeromie Schumacher always instilled in their athletes the desire to go above and beyond for each other and built a strong and successful team. Their son Myles who has autism opened their hearts to the immense benefits of inclusive communities. The Schumacher’s met with Ian Hockley from Dylan’s Wings of Change in the fall of 2013 and at that meeting the Wingman Project concept emerged.
With the support of a grant from Autism Speaks the Wingman for Sports guide was produced. This guide gives coaches straightforward guidance and easy to use activities that over a typical 8 week program instill the Wingman Core Values in club participants. The Wingman for Sports guide is available for download. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Following the completion of the Sports Club guide the foundation was asked to adapt the Wingman program for use in Pomperaug Elementary School, Southbury. Working with faculty a series of activities were devised for teachers to use in the classroom, but the pilot failed due to missed program deadlines and the increased workload that the program created.
Erin and Ian presented the Wingman for Schools program concept to the Board of the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS) in February 2015. CAS introduced the foundation to three schools, New Fairfield Middle School, City Hill Middle in Naugatuck and Brownstone Intermediate in Portland. New Fairfield tasked their PACK student leadership team to design Wingman as a student-led, school-wide full-year program. City Hill partnered with experiential educator Jennifer Stanchfield from Vermont; Jen developed the very first Wingman student leader training program and many of her activities are used throughout the program by schools today.
In September of 2015 the Wingman for Schools program formally launched at these three schools. Through media reports, conference presentations and networking other schools across Connecticut and New York decided to adopt Wingman as their climate improvement and social and emotional development methodology. As of September 2017, there will be 14 schools enrolled in Wingman.
A chance meeting at New Fairfield’s launch event provided the spark for the Wingman for Dance program. Renowned speaker Ed Gerety came from New Hampshire to kick off the Wingman program in the school and his wife Suzanne visited with him. Suzanne invited her friend Jessica Michaels, a dance instructor from Newtown who had been deeply affected by the Sandy Hook Shooting and whom Suzanne thought would benefit from seeing one glimmer of good that had emerged. Jess watched the launch event unfold and immediately began thinking how this program could be adapted for the Dance studio. Jess and Ian began working on the Wingman for Dance program (Competition Team, Summer Camp and Premier Guide) and the pilot launched in nine studios across the United States in the fall of 2016.
Around the same time as the Dance program was in development, Jennifer Heitzke, a Kindergarten teacher at Stepney Elementary in Monroe contacted the foundation with an idea to bring Wingman to younger grades. Building on a successful book-buddy program, the school began an adapted version of Wingman with activities for 5th graders and Kindergarten to work together. This pilot concluded in June 2017 and is ready for general roll out. The program draws heavily on the published works of Jennifer Stanchfield and is firmly grounded in experiential education as the young students earn their WINGS.
The Wingman logo was chosen very carefully and is extremely special. The image is strong, like a superhero’s badge representing how a true Wingman strives to go above and beyond. Dylan’s favorite color was purple. He would come home from school each day proudly carrying a picture he had made from purple dots.
“ Like many people on the spectrum, Dylan demonstrated several aspects of repetitive movement. Autistic individuals are sometimes known to rock their bodies, roll their heads or flap their hands. Dylan was a flapper. Whenever he got excited or happy, he jumped up and down and flapped as fast as he could. One day I asked Dylan, “Why do you flap?” In all honesty, because Dylan had under-developed language skills, I wasn’t expecting him to answer. But he did. He said, “Because I am a beautiful butterfly.”
It has been said that something as small as a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane halfway around the world. That a small change or single occurrence in one place can result in large differences elsewhere. It redefines the future.
Dylan is our butterfly.”
—Nicole Hockley, Memorial Service to Dylan, December 21st, 2012