During the year I often take time to invite groups of students to eat lunch in the classroom. While chatting with the students in this relaxed atmosphere, I really get to know them better. Occasionally, we stumble into meaningful conversations in which I slip in bits of wisdom about making successful choices and leading a 2i2 life. The 2i2 life is a trademark of our classroom. It attempts to capture the importance of living a life of integrity (the “I” in 2i2) in which you push yourself to be the best you can be (see my 212 post).
Photo of Integrity Bros. Group: Michael, Brendan, Brandon, Tyler, Tristen, Jacob, and Anthony.
Towards the end of one particular year, the students expressed their dismay that our classroom lunches would soon be over. I thought it would be a waste to throw away such a treasured dynamic, so I told them that it did not have to end. The students were excited about the news, but puzzled by the way it would actually work, with their moving on to middle school.
I explained that they were welcome to come back one night a month for games, pizza, and good conversation. The rules were simple: (1) I would provide the pop, plates, and games and (2) they would provide the pizza and organize it themselves. Of course, they thought this was a great idea and started making all sorts of plans. And, of course, I thought that as soon as summer hit they would forget about the lunches. Life would move on. The plans and organization would fall apart. Elementary school would be a distant memory. They proved me wrong!
The following year two groups of students, the Integrity Girls and the Integrity Boys, managed to gather in the old classroom nearly each and every month. We had a great time catching up with each other, playing board games (one of the best for generating discussions is The Ungame), and talking about some of the integrity issues that middle schoolers encounter. My current students would ask why middle schoolers were occasionally gathering outside the classroom door at the end of the school day. So I explained to them about the integrity groups. Just the appearance of the alumni was enough to inspire younger students to form their own groups when they went to middle school.
Some integrity groups stay strong and others meet more sporadically. One of the original groups of boys still manages to meet every month. Some of the boys only come for 30 minutes because of a practice or a game, but they truly put in the effort to make an appearance. It has been fun to watch their trust in each other grow deep over the years. I can honestly say that this particularly tight group of boys has really helped each other through some rough times. From health issues to family issues, from social issues to integrity issues, from fitting in to feeling rejection, these boys truly have compassion for each and every member of their group.
Now these boys are almost in high school and we have changed their title from Integrity Boys to Integrity Bros. We have also tried to expand the meaning of our group by spreading integrity throughout the community. For example, a few months ago some of us ran in a race to raise money for the hungry in Clinton Township. We have also bought a set of Boom Boom! cards to help make the world a better place.
This is not a completely novel concept. Programs like D.A.R.E., Smart Moves, and Challenge Day all attempt to create safe environments that educate youth about the pressures that exist beyond elementary school. These programs all have one major downfall, and that is their temporary nature. While the integrity groups tend to be more permanent, the responsibility for the monthly organization does belong to the students. That is where the integrity groups can fall apart. In an ideal world, I would organize an integrity group for every group of alumni I ever had, but that is simply not possible.
Do all the integrity groups flourish? No, not all. I find the single most important factor is trust among members of the group. One individual can easily throw off a group dynamic. Therefore, once a group proves it is sustainable, we come up with rules to keep the dynamics from getting askew.
One other factor that is important in sustaining a group is parental support. I do my best to maintain
connections with parents. Some parents even utilize me to help reinforce lessons they are trying to teach at home. They realize that hearing the same advice from someone other than a parent tends to make the message stick.
2i2 is a trademark of Mr. Vasicek's class. It symbolizes living to your potential and doing it with Integrity. A special thanks to the original integrity gang that is still going strong: Carney, Murphy, Rickert, Skurda, Szajna, Tsatsanis, Zipay, Livernois, and Wiegand.