Healthy relationships are fundamental if a young person is to thrive, but not every adolescent has good examples or guidance for how to establish them. Young people need to see examples of relationships based on mutual trust, honesty, and communication so they can model those characteristics with friends, parents, teachers, and romantic partners.
The Heartland Rural Health Network’s i Make a Difference (iMAD) program teaches youth skills to support healthy relationships in central Florida schools using the Get Real curriculum. Through a grant from FYSB’s Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), which supports state, Tribal and community efforts to promote abstinence and contraceptive education, and incorporates adulthood preparation subjects (APS), Heartland hosted two summer camps in 2018. One camp served middle school students and the other provided programming for high school youth.
Larry Moore, iMAD’s program director, wanted to keep program participants engaged through the summer months so he gave the camp a wizard theme. Moore and his colleagues used fun and interactive activities with Harry Potter and other wizard stories to engage nearly 40 youth in the middle school camp.
“We watched a scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the ‘social awareness’ lesson,” says Moore. “It’s the scene when students are first coming to Hogwarts on the train and you see friendship begin between Harry, Hermione, and Ron. We talked to the camp-goers about social awareness and what that means, then we said, ‘Watch where Ron asks if he can sit with them on the train. How were they all being socially aware?’ They explained what they saw, then we had a group discussion about what could have happened, if they didn’t have social awareness. The campers basically rewrote the scene and showed what could have been said and how that would have changed things.”
The four-day camp was held in June, shortly after school ended for the summer. In addition to the movie-clip discussions, Moore also created games, crafts, and other activities, all of which connected well-known Harry Potter characters and imagery to lessons about self-identity, confidence, and healthy relationships.
The approachable theme helped break down some of the natural shyness that often comes with those topics. But the summer-camp setting also required community involvement.
“This was a totally new idea, and for something like this to work and not become overwhelming, you need the community backing,” Moore says. Since the lessons weren’t held in school, Moore pitched local businesses to have craft supplies and lunch donated for the camps. Universal Studios, located nearby, donated Harry Potter gifts for camp participants, including DVDs. In their own way, these sponsorships modeled healthy community relationships for the campers.
“In a rural community, talking about teen pregnancy or contraception can be very hush hush,” Moore says, “so with the wizard theme and this community outreach we were able to go a different route. These movies are about friendships between three people. It’s not romantic, it’s the purity of three friends hanging out and growing together. As I presented it to parents and businesses, I would just explain the principles that we wanted to get across to the kids.”
It might not have been magic, but it got the right message across. Moore and iMAD are repeating the camp in 2019 to serve even more young people and encourage these essential conversations.