Seniors bond during Awareness Weekend

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Approximately 130 seniors and staff members at Amityville Memorial High School continued a long-standing tradition by trading their beds for sleeping bags and staying overnight at the school. The annual Awareness Weekend was held from Nov. 18-19, which featured guest speakers and bonding activities.

The students spent 30 consecutive hours at the school from afterschool Friday through Saturday night, sleeping in classrooms. They were divided into 13 “family groups,” with each consisting of an adult facilitator, a student facilitator and about a half-dozen seniors. In those groups, they participated in role playing activities, communication exercises and games, and had follow-up discussions after the speakers.

“It’s probably the most vital part of the weekend,” said Jason McGowan, a special education teacher and coordinator of Awareness Weekend, of the groups. “That’s where most of the bonding goes on.”

The purpose of the weekend is to get students out of their comfort zones and interact with students who might not be part of their social circle. This year’s theme was “Knock Down Walls and Build Bridges.”

The keynote speaker was Victoria Ruvolo, a Long Island woman who was hit in the face with a frozen turkey after it was thrown at her car and who speaks about forgiveness. There was also a student panel during which members of the senior class discussed ways they overcame adversity.

On Saturday morning, students enjoyed a wonderful breakfast provided by the Amityville Parent-Teacher Council and Kiwanis Club, and then listened to guest speaker Erin O’Bannon, who delivered an inspiring message about her physical disability and how she dealt with being different.

Students and adults ended the emotional weekend hugging and saying goodbye as “Lean on Me” played in the background. All participants will write a reaction paper sharing their thoughts and feelings about the event.

“I loved Awareness Weekend and I will remember this program for the rest of my life,” said senior leader Eshti Sookram. “I wish we could have stayed another night. I didn’t want it to end.”