Middle school has always been a time of tremendous transition in the lives of children, and today’s teens are experiencing an intensifying awareness of society’s fears and stresses. As parents and teachers, we can help these students by creating rites of passage to help them mark their growth, face their fears and overcome a sense of inability or passivity. Some of these rites are small, while others may be major, life-changing episodes that propel the child into a new sense of self.
Rites of passage bring about challenges that teach us, test us, and make us able to do something beyond our perceived capacity. They are experiences that can propel growing children to take steps towards caring for themselves with no one’s help, from which they emerge transformed, having grown more fully into themselves.
Teaching middle school girls, 11 to 14 years old, I deeply appreciate being able to create such rites of passage. From the daily opportunity for a student to find her own voice in a classroom discussion, to making small steps towards learning the ropes of leadership, these rites of passage help students develop into strong advocates for themselves and their world (hey, how wonderful is that?!).
In addition to these small, daily opportunities for growth, I enjoy and appreciate the work that I am able to do in partnership with Resolve (formerly IMPACT Personal Safety).
Resolve (www.resolvenm.org) is a Santa Fe program that teaches children and adults to prevent, mitigate and interrupt interpersonal violence. Students learn mental and emotional preparation, adrenaline management, verbal dissuasion and physical techniques for threatening and violent situations. All strategies are practiced in increasingly realistic scenarios. As a teacher, I recommend Resolve to all families. Their training is available for children beginning with ages 6 and up, and appropriate for any gender.
Adults have a basic instinct to keep children safe — which often extends to an urge to keep them from feeling fear. Resolve’s adrenaline-packed training creates a mixture of excitement and fear in students. Is this a good thing? Actually, I find it essential for students’ learning about self, particularly for teens who teeter between needing freedom and adventure, and who are learning life skills of discernment, emotion management and personal boundaries.
Students who participate in a controlled Resolve situation gain the skills to find safety in a real-life dangerous encounter. In their bodies and subconscious minds, they know that they have just effectively saved themselves as they faced mock violence and practiced the skills to overcome adversity.
“I am so scared” becomes “I am in control of my reactions.” “I don’t know if I can do it” becomes “I know I can do it; I did it.” “The world is a scary place” becomes “I am powerful.” One eighth-grade graduate said simply: “This class definitely taught me to live without fear.”
At the Santa Fe Girls’ School we have worked closely with Resolve for the past 18 years, integrating their violence prevention and self-defense training into our curriculum. In 2017 we received their Visionary Award for our ongoing engagement with this work. Our commitment to empowering girls to develop into strong young women capable of facing challenges of all kinds with resilience, confidence and agency is served through this beneficial collaboration. We believe that all students are more likely to succeed when they have the tools to set boundaries, de-escalate conflicts and defend themselves.
“In Resolve I learned that I have to set boundaries,” one of our eighth-grade students said after completing the training. “I have to use my voice and be straightforward with what I want and what I believe. And if that does not work and an attack happens, I must defend myself. I cannot be afraid. I have walked out of Resolve fearless. I am still the nice person I try to be, only now I know when nice just isn’t enough. Now I know I have a voice.”
This sort of transformation is alchemical in its power and implication. I rejoice in seeing this strength and ability blossom in my students; I see each one face this challenge and reach into the depths of her character to emerge as a person in charge of her destiny.
Darya Peterson-Glass teaches mathematics and history at the Santa Fe Girls’ School. She has been a Personal Safety Trainer at Resolve and IMPACT for eight years