Social agencies have stepped up to develop numerous girl empowerment programs. This school year, WiseGuys, a pilot program for healthy masculinity, is launching for Grade 8 and 9 boys.
Promoted by Calgary’s Centre for Sexuality, WiseGuys assists individuals who identify as males form healthy adolescent relationships. Locally, the three-prong project is a joint effort between Stop Abuse in Families (SAiF) Society, City of St. Albert community services, and Lorne Akins Junior High School.
The program’s mission is to support youth identifying as males develop the skills and knowledge to have healthy relationships in every aspect of life and prevent dating violence. It also examines harmful gender stereotypes and how to decrease attitudes.
“Here at SAiF, we work with so many genders. So many boys and men reach out because they are struggling with mental health and things about what their own ideas of what it means to be a man is. And some of the ideas around are toxic,” said executive director Areni Kelleppan.
“This program offers them a way to express themselves in a healthy way and not be limited by their gender roles. There are these stereotypes that boys don’t cry, that they’re pussies if they cry. But these stereotypes stand in the way of them becoming healthy, kind human beings.”
Kelleppan said there are many good, caring men out there.
“They are loyal partners. They are active parents in their children’s lives. They’re not afraid of giving hugs and wiping away their children’s tears. They talk in healthy ways to their children and partner. They don’t just scream. It’s important to show what healthy masculinity is like and to uphold it.”
For its inaugural year in St. Albert, the program will be offered only at Lorne Akins. Two groups are planned — one for Grade 8 and one for Grade 9. WiseGuyz participants meet weekly for one hour for 20 weeks. The program covers four basic modules: healthy relationships; sexual health; gender, sexuality, and the media; and human rights and advocacy.
“These four units provide a lot of internal reflection on how young people can take what they’ve learned and be agents of change in whatever context they want,” said Tuval Nafshi, prevention coordinator for Family and Community Support Services. Along with Ignacio Astete from SAiF, the duo will lead the sessions.
Lorne Akins social studies teacher Ryan Drake is the school’s liaison between SAiF and the city. Being on the front lines, he is acutely aware how teenagers often do not understand the effect their words and actions have on others.
“Boys are impulsive at this age, and we want to give them the background to promote healthy relationships. Nowadays with technology, they have access to everything and not all access is fully informed or correct. They have no idea if what they receive is an actual representation of life, and we hope to guide them in the right direction,” said Drake.
Recruitment is underway and about half the spots are filled, with each group accepting a maximum of 15 individuals. The Grade 8 group starts Tuesday, Oct. 4, and Grade 9 students meet Thursday, Oct. 6.
Nafshi added, “I’m excited Lorne Akins is the first school in St. Albert to have WiseGuyz. This is part of a big scaling up attempt. It’s unique. This kind of change takes time. It takes relationship building and time. But it could be the start of something special.”