New program for Federal Way athletes aims to build character, prevent violence

Advancing As Leaders and Coaching Boys Into Men offer weekly discussions on understanding consent, healthy relationships and more.

Coaches have life-changing abilities beyond any field, court or competition.

This is what keynote speaker Rebecca Milliman, prevention and education coordinator at the Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress, conveyed at Todd Beamer High School on Sept. 9.

In partnership with Team Up Washington, Federal Way Public Schools hosted the presentation to inform the community of the two new, evidence-based violence prevention programs the district is now offering for all high school athletes.

“This is one way to build a safe community,” said FWPS Deputy Superintendent Dr. Danielle Pfeiffer at an informational meeting Sept. 9.

Keynote speakers included Milliman and Ward Urion, certified social change manager for LifeWire, a domestic violence prevention organization.

FWPS is one of the only districts in the country to provide programs of this type to both the girls and boys teams for every sport offered at the high school level.

Milliman recalled the superintendent’s enthusiasm when conversations of bringing the program to the district began, Dr. Tammy Campbell calling it “life-saving information.”

Athletes As Leaders (AAL), the program for female-identifying athletes, and Coaching Boys Into Men (CBIM), the program for male-identifying athletes, began this fall sports season. This program will be implemented throughout all sports seasons, the district noted.

Through conversations designed as specific life lessons over the course of 10 to 12 weeks, athletes connect with their coaches to open dialogue on character building, healthy relationships, violence prevention and other topics.

In its fifth year of success, the program is designed to empower women, prevent violence, and teach the key factors of healthy relationships in all realms.

Originating at Garfield High School in Seattle, AAL focuses on dissecting gender stereotypes, understanding consent, discussing privilege and oppression, exploring self-image and more.

CBIM, developed by Futures Without Violence, leverages the male-to-male influence to discuss the impacts of insulting language, respecting women, the concept of consent, and promoting equality among the genders, among other lessons.

“There are no quick fixes …” Campbell said. “[It takes] engaging with scholars about relevant and real challenges they face.”

It is critical to provide a venue where teens are able to be authentically who they are, but also committed to be being better, said keynote speaker Ward Urion.

“[They’re] not only changing their team leadership, but changing the school culture that they’re living in,” Urion said. “It’s also about creating leaders that will impact our entire world …”

Urion and Milliman explained research from a Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center study, which proved AAL athletes who completed the program developed statistically significant changes in their ability to identify abusive behaviors, improved belief in gender equality, and increased self-image and confidence.

Studies also proved Coaching Boys into Men has shown a positive impact on male athletes’ bystander behaviors and to reduce abuse perpetration, the district noted. Other schools across the country who’ve implemented the programs report positive results including reduced bullying and violence prevention.

“We’ve heard from families and community members about what we’re doing to make our schools more safe,” said Kassie Swenson, chief of communications for FWPS. “Superintendent Campbell recently heard about these programs and knew they would be valuable additions to our current safety efforts.”

These programs support the district’s efforts to create safe and positive learning environments at the schools, Swenson noted, along with building student leadership skills.

All of the fall sports coaches, district leadership members, and Campbell completed the program training in late July. The district’s 62 attendees made up a majority of the training group, what Milliman called “the largest group of any district.”

“It remains a point of pride … that we can actually brag to our colleagues around the nation, really, that there’s a district — an entire district in the state of Washington — that has committed on such a deep level,” Ward said.

The district noted in a Sept. 10 press release that programs like these “can create a bigger impact beyond the sports team. It empowers students to step up and make a difference in their schools to help make their school culture safer and more positive.”

Urion noted this program equips coaches with proven, evidence-based tools that help them reach into young people’s lives and “help heal brains, and heal hearts and heal experiences. Those are the kinds of things that can have transformative impacts on an entire community.”