From Hudson High School seniors to freshmen, Flip It Forward makes impactWhen Hudson High School senior Alec Vanasse got into some trouble on campus earlier this year, he agreed to find a way to “give back” to his school to make up for it.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
When Hudson High School senior Alec Vanasse got into some trouble on campus earlier this year, he agreed to find a way to “give back” to his school to make up for it.
He approached alcohol and drug education coordinator Dana Krahenbuhl for an idea of something to do. She suggested that Vanasse participate in “Flip It Forward,” a grassroots effort spreading through HHS designed to help students make connections outside their usual groups.
Vanasse said he wasn’t sure what to expect from the experience but agreed to give it a try. “I didn’t know how serious it was or how it would affect kids but I liked it. It is a good thing.”
A Flip It session takes about 90 minutes. About 20 student leaders recently worked with a group of freshmen. The leaders have all been through Flip It themselves and have received training on how to facilitate the experience for others. Student trainers number around 200 at HHS. Krahenbuhl estimates about 600 HHS students have been through Flip It since it started on campus this fall.
The session begins with a promise and a pledge by everyone involved to keep what goes on in the session confidential. To date, Krahenbuhl said she is not aware that anything shared in a Flip It session has gone outside the group.
Things get started with an “icebreaker,” an activity where students randomly group together when a leader calls out a command to touch —like “8 feet,” “5 hands” or “3 heads.” The activity mixes students up and usually creates chatter and laughter.
The participants then heard from Vanasse’s friend, senior Zubin Bhakta. This is his first experience with Flip It Forward but he wanted to get involved after what his friend told him about it. His story about the death of an uncle he was very close to sets a tone different from what students might expect from the usually gregarious and outgoing student athlete. His presentation is brief but it is clear how important it is to Bhakta. It helps set the stage for what is to come.
Next is the first of two “Cross the line if…” exercises. Participants including some leaders line the wall and step forward to cross the line in response to a variety of situations or experiences. Examples include:
The students break into smaller groups of about eight for the next exercise. The leaders begin it themselves by saying, “If you knew me, you would know…” followed by something like, “I have a big family” or “I play football.”
Going around the circle, each student offers something about themselves, and it isn’t long before things become more personal and more serious.
Vanasse said that surprised him on his first experience. “It kind of comes on gradually and works up to the more serious stuff. But you could feel there is a trust level. And there’s no judgment about anything being said. It’s really different.”
Among the things students brought up in the “If you knew me…” exercise were:
The small groups are followed by a second “cross the line” exercise and another small group encounter.
Student leader Camden Droppo said things tend to get even more intense in the second small group encounter, and students can get pretty emotional.
“I think it shows that kids really want to talk and share things about themselves. And the other kids in the group seem respectful of that….I think it (Flip It) has made a difference in the school. It is hard to make fun of people or bully them once you realize that everybody is going through something. We’ve all got that in common.”
Bhakta agrees, so much so that he has spearheaded a plan to take time at the senior picnic for a Flip It session. “It’s the last chance to bond with our classmates, one last opportunity to look at them differently and really get to know them. I don’t want to leave high school judging people.”
Vanasse said he doesn’t want people to get the impression that all the sharing at Flip It is negative in nature. “Leaders also encourage people to talk about what they are most proud of and about their accomplishments. The thing that is so good about it is that people don’t resist talking about what they are feeling or personal stuff. They may be a little reluctant at first but they get into it.”
Krahenbuhl said that Vanasse’s experience with Flip It Forward isn’t unique but rather reflects what a lot of the students involved in the program this year have felt as leaders.
“Alec isn’t doing it because he has to, and I know he wasn’t too sure about it at the beginning, but he is a really good leader and has recruited others like Zubin to get involved as well,” said Krahenbuhl.
HHS Principal Laura Love is a believer as well.
“It’s been great to see seniors step up and want to take a leadership role in a way that is helping Hudson High School to break down barriers between groups of students. Students are complex people, and it’s great for other students and staff members to see them in this light. We are happy that students like Alec Vanasse are requesting to step up and lead in Flip It Forward,” said Love.
Word of the success of the program at HHS has spread. Krahenbuhl has been asked to make presentations about the program at other area schools, CESA 11 and at a state convention later this year.