When Kelli Sirianni was a UWindsor undergraduate, she participated in a program designed to give teenagers a sense of belonging and to build personal resilience. Sirianni says that life changing experience drove her to create a similar, more affordable program she could bring to Windsor high schools on a regular basis.
Sirianni (Hons. BA ‘11, BEd ‘12, MEd ‘14) helped create Project BLAST (Breaking Barriers, Loving Yourself, Accepting Others, Similarities not Differences and Total Inclusive Experience), as part of her Master’s thesis with her supervisor, Geri Salinitri, Associate Dean for the Faculty of Education and Academic Development.
“This is an event where students spend a day with their peers, opening up in a safe environment where no topic is taboo,” says Sirianni.
During BLAST workshops, Sirianni and a team of UWindsor volunteers lead student and adult participants through ice-breaking games that transition to serious talks.
“During one activity called cross-the-line, students open up about heavy topics like abuse, assault, bullying, self-harm and drugs,” says Sirianni.
“We don’t shy away from any topic and we use their language, it is loaded, but it is also real and honest.”
One adult participant is required for every five students and the initiative also includes such school representatives as guidance counsellors and a school psychiatrist. Strict rules are in place so students have a respectful and safe space to share - confidentiality waivers are signed by all.
“Everything is kept confidential except if someone admits to being abused, hurting themselves or hurting others,” says Sirianni.
“The day can get intense at times but it is good to see these kids feel safe enough to share such intimate life events.”
BLAST is run through UWindsor and the LEAD (Leadership Experience Academic Direction) program, an enrichment course for teacher candidates. Sirianni is currently one of the LEAD course instructors.
“BLAST helps identify at-risk kids and makes them aware of the services at their disposal if they are brave enough to ask for help,” she says.
“This program is meant to empower the teenagers for the long haul and encourage them to always treat others, and themselves, with empathy and patience.”