Thomas Jefferson High School’s 5280 team is working with the One Love Foundation to teach students how to have healthy relationships.
As the bridge between childhood and adulthood, high school hits teens at a pivotal time in their life. Secondary school is where many adolescents will experience their first intimate relationship. Unfortunately, between mixed messages from media and social pressure from peers, it can be shockingly easy to become trapped in an unhealthy relationship. Realizing the importance of educating the student body about preventing inter-relational emotional and physical abuse, Thomas Jefferson’s Challenge 5280 team, a group dedicated to promoting social justice in the community, reached out to the One Love Foundation to bring evidence-based workshops to the TJ curriculum.
The One Love movement was sparked in 2010 when Yeardley Love, then a senior at the University of Virginia, was beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend just three weeks shy of graduation. In the painful aftermath of the tragedy, Sharon Love, Yeardley’s mother, learned that her daughter’s death was not a freak event, but rather another occurrence in the public health epidemic of relationship violence. Determined to prevent other young men and women from facing the same fate as her daughter, Sharon founded the One Love Foundation. The organization’s programs are dedicated to empowering young people with the knowledge to identify and avoid unhealthy relationships. Now, One Love is the national leader in preventing abusive relationships, teaching society how to love better.
A key to the One Love Foundation’s success is the passion of their workforce. Emily Lloyd, the organization’s engagement manager, has a personal connection to the mission. “I was a student athlete at the University of Virginia, and Yeardley’s story made me realize that this could have been me or any one of my friends,” she remembered. Before ending up at One Love, Lloyd worked at two domestic violence crisis centers, so she had witnessed some of the worst forms of relationship abuse. “I learned that no matter how old someone was—their gender, race, sexuality, or ability—their stories were exactly the same because they were all describing the same behavior,” she explained. Though working with survivors of trauma can be emotionally intense, the sense of community amongst co-workers keeps everyone energized. “I have a great team and support system within One Love who I can always count on to check in and remind me that I am not alone in this work,” Lloyd remarked.
TJ’s Challenge 5280 group discovered One Love while researching organizations to partner with for their goal of changing the community culture surrounding sexual assault and harassment. After discovering that eight out of ten rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, 5280 decided that they needed to educate the school about healthy relationships. Jael Iyema, a sophomore who joined 5280 this year, immediately connected with One Love’s mission. “I recently came from a very toxic friendship. The program showed me that what I came from was not normal and it was not healthy,” she shared. Having been through a relationship that was detrimental to her emotional state, Iyema hates to see other students trapped in a toxic relationship. “It is something you see all the time at TJ. It is important for them to know that what they are going through is not normal and they do not have to go through it alone.”
If 5280 fulfills its goals with One Love, the healthy relationships workshop will be administered to incoming ninth graders during TJ’s Freshman Academy, a summer event wherein all new freshmen have the opportunity to spend four half-days at the school, participating in activities that familiarize themselves with their new surroundings. Ivonne Hernandez, another sophomore in 5280, explained the decision to provide the workshop before teens even become full fledged students: “If we start at an early age, we can program a kid’s brain to make them want a healthy relationship.” The 5280 team chose two workshops to bring to the school: Couplets, a series of eight short videos that highlight the difference between healthy and unhealthy behaviors, and Behind the Post, a series of ten short films that analyze the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship hidden behind social media posts. One of the most appealing aspects of the One Love workshops is that students are able to facilitate them. All 5280 members who will be returning to TJ next fall plan to take One Love’s online seminar to become certified in running Couplets and Behind. In the last two days of Freshman Academy, with the supervision of TJ’s psychologist Natalie Koncz and social worker Samanda Davis, the 5280 members will engage in meaningful conversation with the upcoming underclassmen about healthy relationships, using One Love’s short films as the stimuli. “Learning from fellow peers makes the community feel stronger and safer together,” Hernandez noted. While the authority of adults can be very powerful, letting students learn about healthy relationships from individuals closer to their age range will help the teens relate to the situation more.
“I hope that TJ students learn that all of us do unhealthy things in our relationships, whether they are romantic relationships, friendships, or family relationships,” Lloyd anticipated. “The key is to know enough to be able to recognize when you do something that is unhealthy and ask yourself what you can do to respond differently.” In the future, Lloyd hopes that the implementation of the workshops at TJ will be a stepping stone to spreading One Love’s message across the country. “I really see One Love as the baseline for relationship education nationally and hope that in the next five, ten, and twenty years, we are a mandated curriculum in every health class across the country,” she elaborated. “Everyone can learn how to love themselves and the people around them better and each one of us can work to build healthier relationships. Love is an emotion, but it is also a skill we continue to grow and work on throughout our lives.”
For those who suspect that others or themselves may be trapped in an unhealthy relationship, please speak to TJ’s psychologist Natalie Koncz in room 104 to discuss your options, visit LoveisRespect.org for a confidential chat with a peer advocate (available 24/7), or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 for education and support for you or someone you love.