Anyone who has taken Health at San Marcos has been visited by a group that goes by AHA! They come into the classroom once a week for six weeks, teaching social and emotional awareness and skills one can use in school, life and beyond. According to their website, AHA! is a program funded only by donations and their goal is to form a “community of socially and emotionally intelligent adolescents who are committed to compassion, character, positive creative expression, and the celebration of diversity.”
Standing for Attitude Harmony Achievement, AHA! is not only an in-school program, but also offers summer programs, year-round after school programs, groups for parents and therapy for families in need. There is also a club on campus called AHA! Peacebuilders, which is a club aimed to create a positive campus community by accepting others’ differences, teaching non-violent problem solving and being supportive.
“The club begins with a three day workshop at the end of the summer where the teens learn about a connection circle,” said Melissa Lowenstein, a grant writer and facilitator for AHA!
Basically, a group of friends can get together in a circle with a talking piece. The talking piece serves to make sure only one person speaks at a time. Each person goes around checking in with each other, just a simple high and low of the day. Then, they go around answering two questions the leader has come prepared with.
“Connection circles teach teens to listen, because they are forced to wait their turn until they are handed the talking piece,” said Lowenstein, “At the end of the workshop, everyone signs a contract to join the club and can earn up to two hundred dollars by participating year round. They can also get community service or a combination of the two.”
Each week in the classroom, students discuss with the facilitators a new topic. The class begins with everyone gathering in a large circle, giving a thumbs up or down, depending on how their day went. Then, a few games are played that relate to the lesson or just get the brain moving and thinking. Next, everyone sits down to listen as the lesson is introduced, and participates in a discussion or interactive activity that is led by a few of the facilitators. Lessons include bullying and ways to stop being a bystander, “-isms”, controlling and interpreting emotions, pre-judgement, and compassion for those in different life circumstances.
After discussing the topic of the day, students meet in their small groups which consists of approximately ten teens and two facilitators. This gives them a chance to think and talk about the lesson on a more personal level.
“It was very open and we could say what we felt with no judgement,” said freshman David Dinklage, “Others may feel threatened by these stereotypes and -isms and it makes it easier for them to talk about it.”
AHA! is more than just a group of educators or presenters; they have a long term goal in mind. Research consistently shows that in schools with good Social/Emotional Learning programs, students’ grades and tests scores rise significantly, while there is a decrease in suspensions and violent behavior. AHA! works to build communities and offer opportunities for students to get to know each other better. According to their website, their program has had very positive results and continues to. They “have been credited in bringing about a 72% reduction in suspensions in one local high school” and an evident decrease in student to student violence in several others.
The afterschool programs are built to teach teens what is taught in the classroom and much more. It gives them structure after school, keeping them out of any trouble they are likely to get into between school and dinner time. It is also an opportunity to gain support and meet new people, while discovering oneself and acquiring communication skills, emotional intelligence, and plenty more.
One after school program is Sing It Out, where teens are mentored in character development, conscience, and social-emotional intelligence through music. According to their website, they gather together once each week to be coached by music professionals and AHA! facilitators “to master a rock n’ roll cover song.” The end product is a huge production in May where teens perform what they have learned in front of an audience. This year we had multiple students from San Marcos participate.
In the end, AHA! is a program aiming to create communities of socially and emotionally intelligent people, who will then achieve in school and serve the their community.