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.
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 about 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.