On April 20, 1999, in Littleton, CO, an all-out assault by two seniors from Columbine High School resulted in the death of 12 students and one teacher along with the shooters.
In the aftermath, sociologists, psychologists and educators pondered the reasons why such a tragedy unfolded. While no one will ever know exactly what prompted the shooters to stage such a massive attack, Pastor David Hedlin of Peace Lutheran Church in New Lenox is convinced that family connections, faith, love and guidance are crucial when it comes to raising healthy children.
In the Lincoln-Way area, there is a team of community leaders who work together to communicate and convey information about these positive assets. The group, which is made up of representatives from the high schools and elementary schools, New Lenox Park District, churches and the New Lenox Chamber of Commerce is referred to as Teach Everybody that Assets Matter (TEAM).
All total there are 40 assets that address a variety of issues, including family connections, respect, self-respect and more. During the school year, one asset is selected as the focus of the month and various-related aspects that coincide with the topic are introduced each week in the schools, at churches and throughout the community.
As the month of August is when students come back to school, he said, the Asset of the Month is called "Personal Power." That notion of "personal power" is important because it helps a "young person feel that he or she has control over the things that happen" to them, Hedlin said.
In practicality, it's all relative to assisting youngsters in making good choices. With a little guidance and some solid examples, they learn how to balance peer pressure by understanding what they can do and what they can't do when stress and pressure comes their way.
It's proven, Hedlin said, that training in asset building makes children "less likely to get involved in drugs and alcohol, builds character and makes them better citizens."
The asset program was created and is distributed by the Search Institute in Minneapolis. The organization provides lessons and hands-on examples that can be adapted and implemented to accommodate various age ranges. The Asset Building Program features ideas that can be implemented by churches and faith-based youth groups, at home, on the football field and at school.
This month's asset, "Personal Power," can be emphasized at home by encouraging parents to "express confidence in their children."
Instead of doing everything for them, Hedlin pointed out that parents are more effective when they include the child in decisions. "Ask them what they think. It gives them a sense of power, a sense that their opinion matters."
At Peace Lutheran Church, Hedlin said a student representative sits on the board. "They have full voting rights just like everyone else. It lets (the student population) know that their opinion matters" in the decisions that affect the congregation.
"You need to let them know that they can be part of the solution."
Having implemented the program for nearly a decade, Lincoln-Way High School District 210 has found numerous avenues for effective communication of positive thinking.
District 210 spokeswoman Stacy Holland said the school actively encourages students to get involved in the school, to join an extra-curricular activity.
"I know that when my boys were busy with extracurricular activities that they performed better academically," she said, speaking as a parent. "They had to be more organized."
Upon reflection, she said, what seems to be particularly helpful is the community service aspect as it pertains to asset-building. Of course, it coincides with the Personal Power theme of the month because the student learns first-hand that their actions have an authentic result.
The sports teams have hosted donations for the New Lenox Township Food Pantry, and other school clubs have raised money to help ailing children. Completing community service hours is a big part of the educational philosophy. It helps them learn to understand others, to learn patience and more.
"They want to make a difference," Holland said.
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