Program to foster connection, understanding in MCHS students | CraigDailyPress.com

Program to foster connection, understanding in MCHS students

Lauren Blair

Take a moment to consider when you last had the chance to talk with someone on a deep level about who they are, where they came from and why they act, speak and think the way they do.

How often do our busy lives afford us this opportunity? And even when they do, how many of us take the initiative to reach out and start the conversation?

The world as we know it is only making it more difficult to connect with each other on a real level. A new generation is growing up with smartphones as the norm, replacing face time with Facetime and real conversation with texting.

Tony Bohrer, Craig City Council member and pastor at Apostolic Lighthouse Church, is hoping to break this pattern with a program designed to foster connection and understanding between kids whose social circles might otherwise never cross.

"If You Really Knew Me" was born out of a need to give kids the chance to break down social barriers and develop deeper understanding for each other. Created by Nathaniel Rios — a friend of Bohrer's — Aaron Hailey and Jonathan Jones, the program has been offered in several states, but Moffat County schools will be the first district to bring the program to Colorado.

"We've been looking into just creating a more supportive, closer type of community in our school," said Moffat County High School counselor Paula Duzik. "If we have a sense of community, it's just one more draw to come to MCHS, that students care about each other."

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To that same end, fellow MCHS counselor Donna Weinman started the Link program at MCHS this year, a mentorship program that pairs junior and seniors leaders with incoming freshman. Both counselors are now working with Bohrer to complete preparations for "If You Really Knew Me" to start on Oct. 6.

The half-day program will take 50 students through the training every Monday starting Oct. 6 through the end of the semester. While not mandatory, Duzik is hoping to bring as many students through the program as possible. In order to participate, students must return a form signed by their parents to the MCHS guidance office. Permission forms will continue to be accepted after the program is under way.

Bohrer saw a need to provide more resources and programming to high school kids in Craig, and when he heard about Rios' program, it seemed like the perfect fit. He convinced school officials to do a trial run last spring with 70 MCHS students. Both the student participants and teachers raved about it, to the point that other students who heard about it were asking if they could do it as well.

" 'If you knew my story, you probably wouldn't want to pick on me anyway'… You're trying to get them to that point to share that story," Bohrer said. "By the end of the day, you have that popular kid with his arm around this kid he's never talked to saying, 'You know, now we're going to do this together,' because he knows where he's coming from."

In order to bring the program to Craig and keep the bulk of the financial burden off of the school district, Bohrer set out mid-summer to raise $12,000 from the community.

The Moffat County School District Board of Education committed $2,500 to the program at its meeting Thursday night, which followed in the footsteps of three other $2,500 donations from the Craig Kiwanis Club, Substance Abuse Prevention Program and Dave Derose. Additional donations came from Lighthouse Church, Scott Cook, and other community members, and Bohrer is still seeking further donations to close the gap before the program kicks off Oct. 6.

Funding will pay for sound and video equipment needed to run the program, lunch for all participants, transportation and t-shirts. Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Colorado has donated space for the event.

Bohrer's vision extends far beyond the initial run of the program. In addition to regular visits to the school to talk with students, he's planning an after-school program slated to begin next semester. He also hopes to keep the experience fresh in students' minds with an assembly or two later in the school year.

"I'll be at the school for lunch once or twice per week talking to kids, keeping the movement alive," Bohrer said. "Our after school program's going to be kickin'!"

Bohrer hopes to eventually bring "If You Really Knew Me" to the rest of the Yampa Valley and to other schools throughout Colorado. He plans to provide the program next year at MCHS for all incoming freshman, with upperclassmen helping to facilitate, in collaboration with the Link leader program.

"It gives them an experience and practice for engaging in some meaningful relationships or beginning them," Duzik said. "To see other people have gone through the same things you have or are there to support you."

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @CDP_Education.