Dr. H.O. Smith Elementary School Gym Becomes a Testing Ground for Many Superheroes

March 27, 2015

by Len Lathrop

It wasn’t a bird or a plane.  It was the Superhero Training Academy, a program created by the YMCA of Greater Nashua, celebrating its 10-week completion Tuesday afternoon at Dr. H.O. Smith Elementary School.  School board members, administrative staff, other principals and teachers were on hand to bring to life a contingent of young ‘superheroes.’

The Superhero Training Academy is designed to address the needs of first graders who have been classified as at risk by the school’s at-risk coordinator, yet did not necessarily qualify for support under a diagnosed need.  Teachers and guidance counselors felt a significant number of students were suffering from low self-esteem, difficulty with social interactions, and/or with anxiety and, as a result, were not engaged in the classroom.

The 10-week pilot program began this January.  Three YMCA staff members met with the selected 35 first graders weekly for 45 minutes to teach the youth to be their own superheroes by demonstrating the Y’s core value of making the right decisions for themselves, their school, their friends and the community.  The students learned that teamwork, physical activity, believing in yourself and doing the right thing are all at the core of becoming a superhero.

Josh Schupack, one of the three YMCA staff members who came weekly to the school, explained that the superhero program was a spinoff of their superhero activity program that runs at the YMCA.  Each week, Schupack, along with Tiffany Joslin and Justin Parker, used the four critical components of superhero training incorporated by the YMCA of Nashua:

1-Superheroes must be healthy and strong;

2- Superheroes must exhibit strong character in the form of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility;

3- Superheroes must act for the common good; and

4-Superheroes must be good leaders in their communities.

They reinforced to the students that while at superhero training academies they would work on all four of these areas through fun, physical activities, as well as games, to help teach more about how to be a character driven-leader in your community.  And, as these first graders used their superpower skills, they would design their own superhero costumes and decide how they would serve the community.  Throughout the 10 weeks, students worked toward this conclusion ceremony when they were allowed to present to Dr. X, under his alias Superintendent Bryan Lane, what they had learned and ultimately reveal what superheroes they were.

In that gym, on Tuesday afternoon, it was hard to see who was smiling more: the superheroes or the staff members who were present.  The energy was exciting as these enthusiastic first graders all disclosed their super characters’ names, their actions and how they relate to their communities.  The superheroes met with the various leadership people in attendance to discuss their special identities with them.  Students also were on hand from Library Street School to see the superheroes’ big revelations.

Joseph Manzoli, the chief operating officer of the YMCA, explained that program surveys were just starting to be returned from the various classroom teachers of the participating superheroes. Overall, comments have been very positive so far:  “My students seem to have more confidence in sharing with the class” and “I have been very happy with this program.” Other comments include these responses:  “My students look forward to it every week,”  “I can see that they are becoming more confident every day,” and “It is making a difference.”

This has been the first Superhero Training Academy that the YMCA of Nashua has offered to a school system.  Based on the positive feedback, Dr. Phyllis Schlicter, the assistant superintendent, expects that September will bring a new team of superheroes for the incoming first graders who need a little boost in Hudson.