Awareness Weekend 2022


Echo Senior Staff

What is Awareness Weekend?
Awareness Weekend is a program in which achieving students of good character are given the opportunity to sleep in the school from Friday at 3:30 to Saturday at 10:00pm, essentially spending over 30 hours inside the school. There is a planned schedule that is distributed among guest speakers, community sharing, the student panel, family time, cross the line, free time, mealtimes, sleeping, and the final skit presentation at the end, so there is always something happening. Both teachers and students are given the opportunity to share how they feel, whether it is in community sharing or privately in their family groups. Much is revealed between teachers and students, but whatever happens during Awareness Weekend stays in Awareness Weekend. Mr. McGowan, the manager of the program, had this to say about the program: ‘‘After a 3 year lay off I am extremely happy and proud of the way that awareness weekend turned out. The students and adults alike were very courageous and I appreciate everyone that was involved that made that weekend a weekend to remember.’’ Ms. Breitfeller, a new art teacher in the district who participated in the program, also had this to say:  ‘’Awareness Weekend was a wonderful experience. I am new here in Amityville and went into the weekend simply wanting to know more of the student population and make some more teacher friends. What I got out of it was a lot more. These students are so amazing. They are brave, strong, smart, amazing young people. Some of these students have so much weight on their shoulders. It makes a huge difference to have these young people open up to their peers and their teachers. I felt so lucky to be involved and to have so many positive relationships come from it. Every day I see students and faculty in the hallway, and we know each other a lot better. I happily keep in touch and stay open with my family group. Sometimes students just need an ear or a high five. Sometimes a faculty member just needs to be reminded that they are doing a great job. I look forward to Awareness Weekend next year.’’

Amin’s Perspective

One can only type so much for the raw, real emotion that one experiences during Awareness Weekend. Before anything though, I just want to thank Mr. McGowan for offering Amityville students the opportunity of attending Awareness Weekend again after complications of Covid-19 rendered the program unavailable for the past 3 years. He put in the conscious effort the get the program running again so the 2022-2023 seniors could at least leave with one Awareness Weekend in their life. Continuing his dad’s legacy by bringing it here makes me even more thankful for coming to Amityville and being able to experience this once (or twice) in a lifetime event in an environment where I wasn’t scared to share my feelings without them being made fun of.

 The weekend itself was phenomenal. Outside of all of the emotional moments and the rollercoaster that was experienced, it was a genuinely fun time. In my free time, I skated through the halls, played my Djembe throughout the halls, watched Mr. Greiss masterfully play his drumset (even though he claims that he is rusty), played basketball with a couple of my friends while watching Zider be good at every sport in the world and play a basketball game on my friend’s PS5 at 2 in the morning. It was like a fever dream, and although I got no sleep, it was a memorable experience watching the teachers sprinkle in throughout the middle of the night to watch the matches. 

The first guest speaker, Shadrack, was very inspirational, speaking of his hard childhood in Africa during the crisis of a Civil War in Liberia and leaving for America, where it seemed like all of the odds were against him, especially academically. It took only one teacher to get him on the right path, one of a playwright and president of an acting company that travels to NYC, Long Island, and other such cities. It went to show how much such a seemingly insignificant thing like sharing one’s story with someone else can go such a long way in terms of trying to be better and improve upon yourself when others see the potential within you to grow. 

The student panel was especially tough emotionally, as I was a student on the panel itself. Speaking out to everyone was really nerve-wracking, as I was bouncing around backstage trying to ease my nerves but my colleagues who were to go up with me calmed me down. Hearing what my other friends (whom I have known for years) had to go through without even being aware of them was heartbreaking, yet understandable. The audience became very emotional after hearing our stories, as even teachers were shocked because they had no idea and questioned why we didn’t go to them. For some, it is easy to do something like that and vent out issues to trusted adults, but looking back then during the events that took place, talking to someone about it would have been too painful, which is a sentiment most would relate to. Once that was over, free time ensued, but not without a great dinner provided by the administration and funded by them as well as the students, as they were really supportive in helping the program get back on its feet this year.

Cross the line also took place, which revealed many things that were previously unknown to most who participated, and seeing how most were comfortable enough to step up and be honest with not only the others but themselves, was a great thing to see. Conversations about the observations also took place following the activity. It was really emotional and allowed one to be at peace with themselves (if they were fully truthful that is). Night followed, and showering in the locker room wasn’t all too bad, which was a great revelation made while trying to stay clean after sweating immensely while dancing and playing basketball during free time. I did not have a pillow, so neck pain followed that morning (using a towel for a pillow was not too effective), but it was better than some of my colleagues who slept on the cold, dirty floor. 

The second day was especially fatiguing (disregarding the fact that we got no sleep), as after breakfast we started with a guest speaker (Chris Memoli) who spoke on his experience with a car accident and how not wearing a seatbelt, that one common mistake, changed his life and forced him to relearn how to walk 3 times. Although he was physically damaged, his personality was admirable, as he is still able to joke through all the pain he went through. He was even able to attain a master’s degree in computer science, which is impressive knowing what he has had to do to simply walk and type again (he cannot speak, so he types on a talking keyboard). Afterward, another guest speaker spoke about how getting mixed up in the wrong crowd can change you for the worst, as he was shot and paralyzed from a young age as a result of a gang shooting, which he only survived with the help of his mother and his faith, finding solace within it. 

Throughout all of these events occurring, we spoke within family groups to reflect on and discuss these panels as well as do our own projects, which were split between around 8 a group with (supposedly) one senior facilitator and a faculty member. We ended up growing really close to one another and by the end of it, we made a skit parodying moments from the weekend and even wrote small blurbs describing what we liked about one another, which was surprisingly very emotional. Afterward, we packed our things and left the school. The only things that were to leave the weekend would be the photos we had, the memories in our minds, the shirts on our backs, and the string balls around our necks that would remind us of such an impactful weekend for our lives that I am grateful to have attended and participated in. 

Kazima’s Perspective

“Amazing” hardly even scrapes the surface of that experience! I’m so glad I decided to come and I’m grateful for my friends and teachers that encouraged me to attend because it really did leave a permanent mark on my life. 

I was always in a constant state of surprise and wonder throughout the time we spent together. I really did not expect this event to be so inspiring, heartwarming, vulnerable, sad, touching, and eye-opening all at once. The first guest speaker, Shadrack, was perfect to start things off. His story left me speechless and I cried through it all, especially when he told us to imagine our inner child. I loved his message, “I’ll cover you” is such a powerful statement. 

Not gonna lie, meeting my family group was a bit nerve-wracking at first. I’m a pretty sociable person but I hardly knew any of the kids or the teacher in my family group. However, as the weekend progressed, and I began to get to know my family better, it was such a joyful time and I really cherished every moment. I think the randomized groups were a brilliant idea because it forces you to come out of your shell a little and get to know new people; it builds community – which is the goal. We did a lot of fun activities, played games, talked about the guest speakers, and even talked about ourselves a bit. My favorite part of the family group was when we wrote letters to each member, and in each, we would tell the person what we like about them. It made me tear up and feel so appreciated and loved to read all the kind words from these almost strangers I met a day ago. 

Sleeping in the classrooms was definitely a new experience, a fun one nonetheless. I was happy that we got to choose who we could sleep with so naturally, I stayed in a room with a few of my friends. It felt like a big sleepover haha! 

After our first guest speaker, the student panel spoke. And THAT COMPLETELY BROKE ME. Seeing my close friend up there, and other people I know pour their hearts out and be vulnerable about the hardships they’ve faced had my heart aching and tears flowing non-stop. It was equally painful as it was healing and beautiful. Painful because hearing someone you know open up about horrible things they’ve been through is hard to receive because you wish they didn’t have to suffer alone. But at the same time, I loved how AW created an environment where both students and teachers can be open and seek solace from others. It was beautiful being in the midst of it all, hugging and crying and laughing with my peers. There were more moments like that during community sharing as well, which were special as well.

Cross the line had to be another heavy moment of AW. The room was silent for a long time, yet the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Seeing people boldly step out, as well as taking the chance to step out as well made me feel both vulnerable and connected to these people in a way I never have been before. It also reminded me that teachers are humans too, they’ve been through crazy stuff just like us students. We should treat everyone with kindness no matter what because we really never know what goes on behind closed doors.

That was all Friday, but Saturday really put the icing on the cake. I should mention that the food was pretty good during AW too. All the cooked dishes really made me feel at home. There were 2 guest speakers Saturday, both left me feeling a little changed. The first one, Chris, reminded me to just be grateful for my healthy and fully-functioning body – something I take for granted daily. And the second one, Hashim, man….his story made me cry right there in my seat. He was very interactive with the audience, and the way he told his story and expressed himself made me resonate with him so much. The life lessons he learned, through him – I learned too. All guest speakers touched my heart in a different way and I took all of their messages seriously – because they truly are so important.     

I’m glad the weekend wasn’t all about serious or sad topics, there were plenty of fun elements that really balanced out everything and made the experience even more memorable. From sleeping in the school to playing/dancing around in the gym and running through the halls – AW was a blast for sure! I even brought my guitar and a friend of mine brought his drum and people brought their skateboards and consoles, it was the best. The skits were a great way to end off the weekend, I had a good laugh and it was so fun to make up something with my family group and share it with everyone.

Looking back now, I don’t think I could ever write the perfect words to describe how amazing this experience was. I’m so so so grateful that Mr.McGowan continued this tradition in the High School (and of course – a big thanks to his dad who created this decades ago). As soon as it was over I told all my friends who didn’t go and strongly encouraged them to come to the next Awareness Weekend. It’s such a rare experience, no other schools do this! To cultivate such an intimate, loving, and judgment-free environment in a school, of all places, is such a beautiful thing. I’m so happy I was able to attend, and I can’t wait to go (and tell my story) next year! 

Terry’s Perspective

For as often as I sleep in school, I never thought it could be a good thing. But also, overnight? It Is Cool 2 Sleep In School, words from our own, Mr. McGowan! You’re probably wondering what  Awareness Weekend is. I know I was when I first heard about it. I never really got that much information other than it was “a weekend full of crying and sleeping in the school.” However, I was told by multiple former students and staff members that I had to go and that it would be a fantastic experience. I’m happy I listened to them and went. 

To be completely honest, when I walked back into school on Friday, I started dreading it. All I wanted to do was go home and lay down with my cat. But I figured, “let’s give it a try.” I sat down with my coffee and a brand new box of Extra Toasty CheezeIts (vital to the story) and waited for it all to start. I found it funny when every student seemed unsure and confused when McGowan first walked out. Nobody made a sound until we all realized we were supposed to. Clapping and cheering, I looked around and saw that there were so many different groups of students there, groups I probably never would’ve talked to before. As soon as the first guest speaker walked out on stage, my mind changed to “maybe this won’t be so bad after all.” Shadrack was amazing! He put a lot into perspective and inspired me to keep an open mind for the weekend. 

The first family group session made me uneasy at first. I didn’t like the thought of being open with people I didn’t know. I was only friends with one of the students and not really familiar with the two adults. Though, that changed by the second session. I started feeling a lot more comfortable. We talked about our reactions to the student panel, cross the line, community sharing, and all of the events that we attended. It was comforting to hear that I was not the only student feeling emotional and unsure. But I also enjoyed hearing about other students’ perspectives on what we were all experiencing. Throughout the entire weekend, we all grew close and had a lot of laughs. Reflecting on our time together for our skit was probably one of the best parts of the weekend. There are few times I’ve laughed that hard with new people, and I’m very glad I was able to experience such an amazing group. When I run into a couple of them in the halls, it always makes me smile when they say “hi.” It makes me feel a little less alone. Though Jerry did make me run into multiple walls during the trust walk, I am happy to say I made new friends. 

The guest speakers all opened my eyes in different ways. It’s often easy to forget how different people’s lives are from your own, especially in different parts of the world. I don’t think about it as often as I wish I do. The first guest speakers reminded me of this and it’s something I still think about often. The second one, speaking about how a car crash changed his life, simply because he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt, reminded me how fragile we really are. Though I honestly didn’t do as much as I should have before, I’ve found myself clicking my seatbelt every time I get into a car, even if it’s only going to school. Another thing I easily forget, is how one little decision could change your entire life. I believe the third speaker made me the most emotional. At a young age, he got involved in a gang, with people who he believed were his friends. Right before he and his family were moving to another area, he was shot and paralyzed. He spoke about his time in the ER and what he described brought me back to my time in the hospital, something I try not to think about consistently. All of the guest speakers overcame their past and achieved inspiring and fascinating things. It made me realize that if they can push through so can I. It gave me a little more hope that the future will get better, and that I will be able to achieve my dreams. 

When the student panel came out, I was shocked to see who was on it. Two of the students were people I considered friends, more than just peers. I grew anxious to hear their story. When I did listen to them, it brought me to tears. It was hard to think that people I know so dearly, have gone through and have felt such similar things. Looking at them, you would never have believed that they have gone through what they described. I admire the courage. They inspired me to speak at the community sharing. I didn’t plan on opening up at all during the weekend, but something made me decide to not only tell part of my story but let others know that they’re not alone. I never thought that as many of my peers around me would have gone through such similar things to myself. The more that people spoke, the more I realized that you truly do have no idea what the people around you have going on. Everyone acts the way they do for a reason, which is another thing that is easy to forget. I had a lot of staff members and students walk up to me to congratulate me and thank me for speaking. I had multiple students thank me for helping them realize that what they feel isn’t invalid and how that brought them comfort. Each time, it made me tear up, I never realized that telling my story could matter so much. Multiple staff members also came up to me and asked why I had never talked to any of them about what I was going through, and I told them the honest truth. “I didn’t want anyone to worry.” But I saw how much hearing the students’ stories affected them and it really did show me how much they all cared. I love every single of those staff members. I love how a couple of them came up to tell their own story. It reminded me that teachers and adults are just as human as I am. 

Cross the line has always been one of my favorite activities. I such a simple way to show people that they’re not alone, but also realize that you’re not alone. I was honest in every question. Something that brought me to tears at points. Admitting some of the things I did make me feel shameful and dirty until I saw how many people were with me. It was such a simple thing, but something that made me feel so much better. 

I never thought I could have so much fun inside of school. I laughed so hard that I cried multiple times. I also never thought I would be just like Mr. Plaia and be skateboarding down the hallways. I loved playing guitar, watching kids play manhunt, watching Mr. Zider play basketball, and just all of the chaos that was happening around. So many amazing and funny things happened that I can’t even remember it all. I loved hearing the stories about what everyone did in their free time. I will also say, the food was AMAZING! The very end made me realize that I was in fact a senior. My peers and I, we were seniors and about to graduate. It really was such a bittersweet moment to watch the younger grades stand in the circle at the end. I loved seeing how excited they were to attend next year’s Awareness Weekend. I will miss all of them so much, as well as all of the staff members.

I want to thank every single person that attended. Especially the staff members. The weekend was such a great experience and every part of me wishes I could do it again. I am so excited for those who get to go to the next one, and I hope this tradition continues! To the next Awareness Weekend!