MEMBERS OF MT. ARARAT HIGH SCHOOL’S Teens for Change club, pictured from left, are Sarah Furman, the club’s adviser, Brennan Thiboutot, Brea Holtet, Dalton Streeter, Meriwether Stockford and Kody Noyes. Not pictured is Holly Temple.

MEMBERS OF MT. ARARAT HIGH SCHOOL’S Teens for Change club, pictured from left, are Sarah Furman, the club’s adviser, Brennan Thiboutot, Brea Holtet, Dalton Streeter, Meriwether Stockford and Kody Noyes. Not pictured is Holly Temple.

TOPSHAM

A group of students want to change the culture relating to gender issues at Mt. Ararat High School.

The students took part in a training last year that inspired the creation of a school club, Teens for Change. The training, conducted by Maine Boys to Men, was focused on gender violence, sexual assault and consent within relationships. The Mission of Boys to Men is to reduce interpersonal violence, specifically male violence against women and girls, and support the development of emotionally fluent, civically engaged boys.

“We went in not knowing what we were doing and it ended up being a life-changing experience for all of us,” said senior Dalton Streeter of that training. “We came back and were pretty motivated to change our school.”

Senior Mariwether Stockford said a goal of the training was for participants to go back to their own school and form a club. She, Streeter and junior Kody Noyes currently lead the club.

“In today’s world we see a lot of sexual assault and violence, and we learned a lot about that and how to prevent it in our school,” Streeter said. “We learned about consent and a lot of people don’t know what consent is. It was just eye-opening for a lot of us and we did bring it back to our peers at the high school.”

Teens for Change students learned about real scenarios and stories reported from other students within Maine that have experienced sexual assault, violence or issues surrounding consent.

Noyes said when he returned he noticed these issues at play within Mt. Ararat. Now, he and other Teens for Change students have the tools to intervene and resources they can turn to for help.

Noyes said many people make remarks in the course of the school day about same sex relationships, for example. Students can speak up, without being confrontational.

“You just kind of step in and maybe after class pull them aside and say, ‘Hey, that wasn’t appropriate to me. Think about the other people in the class,’” he said.

There are many gender-harassment comments made, often directed toward females, within our society, said club adviser and social worker Sarah Furman, “so some of it is just about becoming aware of the language we’re using from day to day.”

Part of the goal is to make it clear that even though students may not see what’s going on in the lives of their friends and within their relationships, they should check in.

Even if students don’t take the program seriously, said sophomore Brea Holtet, “they’re still hearing it and becoming aware of it.”

Teens for Change members next plan to work with coaches and sports teams.

“I think it speaks to how much they care about not only the MTA community but the other kids in the community,” said Mt. Ararat Principal Donna Brunette. “It’s more about the level of willingness to invest in a project with the sense that you may be able to impact a change.”

This project is gender-based and safety oriented, but other students have developed school-wide assemblies centered around substance abuse and wanting their peers to be safe.

If the message is coming from their peers, Brunette said, it tends to be more powerful.

Given the many gender-based stories in the news recently, she said the student led program can raise awareness and show “that what’s happening in the news is exactly what we’re talking about.”

When you open doors for students and expose them to important issues, Brunette added, “from that some great things can happen because then they do take on a leadership role.”

“They do find a collective voice to address some of those issues,” she said.


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