Boys to Men: a safe space for teens

Greta McLaughlin

In November, 8 to 10 boys will begin meeting every other week to discuss issues ranging from bullying to parental relationships to sexuality in a confidential, nonjudgmental setting. Although a rather small group, Boys to Men has had considerable impacts since its creation in 2011 by WHS Counselor Paul Valenzano.

Valenzano envisioned of this group long before he started working at WHS. At his prior school, he began to notice a trend with the boys he spoke to. “Many of the boys that I was meeting were… showing a lot of anger,” said Valenzano. As a result, he decided to create an anger management group where members could discuss strategies such as impulse control in a safe space.

This group became so much more when Valenzano moved to WHS, and today, the group goes beyond anger management, speaking about gender identity, school safety and more. He aims to create a place where students can discuss topics they may not have a chance to speak about anywhere else or with anyone else. Participants are not bound by a certain structure, and Valenzano calls it “kind of a freestyle thing.”

Just speaking about these issues is crucial in itself, but Valenzano also sees the group as integral in reminding students that they are not alone. Many of the boys share similar stories. In order to be a member of the group, teachers recommend students, and Valenzano interviews them to see if he thinks they would fit in with the group.

“[Teachers] ask what type of student I’m looking for, and it’s really hard to say,” he explained. “I’ve had students that I included that I didn’t think would be a really good fit. Turned out, they were with me for three years and were great contributors,so it’s hard to tell.”

Membership, as a whole, is quite fluid. Some students are reluctant to join, but Valenzano allows for them to leave the group at any time with a “no questions asked” policy. Others can join throughout the year if he sees it fit.

The feedback from members has been positive, and Valenzano said that members feel like they are really being listened to. Some even come back after they leave the group or graduate to discuss their own life experiences. There is truly a sense of camaraderie among the members and an unbreakable bond.

“It’s important for [everybody] not to hold things back and have someone to talk to, whether it’s a friend, parent, counselor or teacher,” Valenzano said. “It doesn’t matter who that person is, but you don’t want to hold feelings inside. You want to be able to share them with other people.”