Think it's tough to get your kids to sit down to a serious discussion on just about any topic? Try approaching them for a family talk about things like ethics, morals, and how important it is to act and behave responsibly in both the real world and the virtual one, even if they are just in sixth grade.
A highly unique, easily customizable, broad-based resource program to help parents and educators improve communications across what can often seem a void the size of the Grand Canyon is now readily available to area communities, schools and families through the Smithfield-based Brightway Center.
"TEST," an acronym for Teen Ethical Standards Training, is an original program resource from the Brightway Center targeted to teenagers.
The late Coach Kara Bright
The Brightway Center, located in Smithfield, is a non-denominational, Christian leadership development program. The youth-oriented program’s mission states that the center provides an environment for people to come together through culturally relevant athletic and educational programs as well as Biblical studies to develop Christian values, growth, and leadership.
Parents, educators and community leaders are getting excited about sharing its customizable components with the thousands of youths who call the Upper Ohio Valley home.
All students who attend classes at the Buckeye Local High School and Middle School were introduced to this program. The program was held at Buckeye Local shortly before school dismissed for the holiday season.
It was a perfect time to see that all the students had opportunities to get introduced to the positive messages the various speakers who take part in this youth-focused resource had to share.
Initially, the TEST resource as a program was shared with student athletes at Steubenville High School in the wake of the teen-focused violence in and around the community.
"I was contacted by Cathy Takach (of the Brightway Center) about the program that they setup for the athletes at Steubenville High School," shared Coy Sudvary, principal at Buckeye Local High School. "With the Brightway Center located in the district - in Smithfield - they were willing to provide the speakers free of charge to the school."
Sudvary said he and another member of the district's leadership team, Jason Kovalski, discussed the benefit of having all students included in the opportunity to hear and interact with the speakers visiting the school to share the TEST program components and decided it was a project well worth seeing happen.
The hope essentially is that personally talking with these successful individuals, hearing some of the first hand experiences they have to share, will help strengthen the personal reserves within each student as they face social, ethical and moral challenges such as drug abuse, social pressures, invasive social media and other ethical behavior issues, questions and challenges.
"Usually we have one speaker and one topic during an assembly," offered Sudvary. "This assembly brought many issues under one topic. The TEST program provided excellent speakers that we could not have brought together without the help of the Brightway Center."
"Each speaker provided their expertise from his life - or spoke about someone's experience who is or was close to them - providing a very personalized view of such situations, scenarios which might play out involving a Buckeye student," he reflected.
Sudvary is himself a father and an avid fan and user of technologies.
"I feel that our students are faced with decisions each day that they do not fully appreciate the consequences of making," offered Sudvary.
But the experience was not meant to simply be of value to the students, but to the faculty as well, Sudvary offered.
"The teachers should take away from such programs the point that even though they are responsible for the content of the curriculum, they also have the job of assisting to educate students of the consequences of their behavior," offered Sudvary.
Key messages shared by program leaders addressed the tragedies and consequences of drug abuse and what happens when someone overdoses, of the many dangers inherent to irresponsible internet use, and the often irreversible damage done to an individual's reputation as the result of such a turn of events.
Thought provoking conversations were had about the value a student should put on realizing their own personal successes as they go through all facets of life.
Also discussed was the need to truly appreciate the importance of deciding to find and share your voice when wrongs are done to others, or if you see a clear potential for harm that could be reversed, the impact lessened or the problem avoided altogether when a person takes the initiative to bring a matter forward. Actions are then based on solid attention to making ethical choices, on setting goals and working to reach those through honest efforts.
Specifically, one of the personal stories shared with the Buckeye students included "Tyler's Light."
"It is a true story about a young man who overdosed on drugs," offered Sudvary.
The other speakers focused on the dangers of communicating on social media, and of making ethical decisions and working to set goals.
"It was an excellent opportunity for our students to hear three dynamic speakers in one day," offered Sudvary.
"I think partnering with the Brightway Center for this project is important because they are working to continue the dream of Mr. Bright (the late Buckeye Local Coach Kara Bright)," offered the local high school principal.
"They are working to help create quality young citizens and community members. We appreciate the time and work of these dynamic speakers for taking the time to share their stories with us. We look forward to future partnerships," shared Sudvary.
The highly motivated and dedicated individuals who have played pivotal roles in its development are now finding time in their busy personal and professional schedules to connect with as many teens as they can through personally visiting schools for opportunities to share first-hand accounts of the importance of learning to make ethical choices, to set personal goals and maintaining a focus on meeting and even surpassing goals you've set for yourself.
The program being focused on is not a cutting edge computer program. Rather, it is a delivery system in use worldwide since time began: the practice of people speaking and interacting personally with others in an exchange of ideas built on lessons reflecting individual value and the importance of developing into solid, ethical leaders.
It is a program built on a foundation valuing things such as making ethical decisions in everyday life, defining for yourself what your personal measure of success will be and how a teenager plans to continuously move steadily toward reaching that goal.
This highly popular TEST program was developed by the leadership team at Brightway as a means primarily of taking important life messages to teens.
The leadership team at Brightway is made up of accomplished individuals from across the region, most of whom have realized success as athletes and in their personal and professional lives and who have chosen to have a positive impact on the quality of life being experienced now by school age children, and to be enjoyed by today's youths and the generations that will follow.
They have developed a unique and highly successful systemized approach to sharing the life lesson that every decision made, every action taken, every internet posting made will bring about some consequence or response somewhere.
The core lesson: decisions have consequences and everyone has the right to make positive, ethical choices about how they intend to live their own life. Early teen years is the perfect time to start building the life habit of knowing each person has great value and potential.
A tip: don't wait until children are into their high school years before sharing messages about the long-term value of responsible behavior throughout their lifetime, and of making goals for yourself that will be attainable and can be built on in coming year.
Making sound, ethical and moral decisions as you walk through everyday life is not a challenge on most teen's personal list of things to do before birthdays force them out of this always challenging phase of life and into the next.
However, thanks to programs like TEST and the resources of The Brightway Center, area teens got a very real gift during their pre-Christmas assembly and the related break-out sessions spent interacting directly with a featured speaker: the knowledge that even as teens they have the individual ability to make the sometimes tough calls which will surely come their way as they move through their life.
Developing strong ethical and moral habits to live by takes courage, commitment, time and practice - and a little encouragement never hurt the process, even if it is delivered to yourself everyday in the mirror just before heading out the door to face the world for another day.
"It is very easy to keep your mouth shut and say nothing in the face of a situation that calls for the individual to make a potentially tough decision," said Clifton Spinner, an area native, TEST presenter and a staff lieutenant with the Ohio Highway Patrol in Columbus where he holds command level responsibilities. "However, ethical leaders stand up and speak out, are willing to withstand peer pressure and to work hard in pursuit of what their own standard of success is - not someone else's definition of what it means to be successful in your life."
Loccisano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org