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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Power in "Believe It Or Not, I Care"

The Power in "Believe It Or Not, I Care"

By Aaron Hale
Director of Dual Credit & Honors Experience
Lake Land College
Ph.D. Student
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Imagine this child’s scenario . . .

I just moved to a new town this week . . . again. 
My dad’s an environmentalist for some big company, always on the move, which means, I’m always on the move.  And of course tomorrow’s the big day, another first day of high school. 
I’m nervous, so nervous that I cannot sleep.  I wake, but now I’m nauseous; I cannot eat my breakfast. 
My dad offers to drive me to school.  We pull out of the drive way, I look out the window, dreading for that moment when I have to walk in those doors and be, “The New Kid”, again.
  Dad drops me off at the front door, gives me a reassuring nod and wink and says, “You’re going to do great.” 
I walk up the stairs, slowly open the door and awaiting me, to my surprise, is a smiling face.  A senior.  He holds out his hand to shake mine and says, “Hi, I’m Brad.  You look lost.  I’m a student mentor here.  How about we find your locker and I walk you to class?” 
A wave of relief came over me; I nod “Yes,” crack a smile, and know that I’m going to be okay.

Educators in America are doing an incredible job raising and protecting our youth, yet are doing so with myriad challenges. 
The demands placed on school children today far transcend those that are academic, as their developmental needs often go unattended at home.  It is with this in mind that our best educators stand vigilant to unearth the needs of children that lie far beneath their outward veneer, and then do something about it.
Once such need is that of “self,” the self that is striving to maintain coping and resiliency through life circumstance.
King, Vidourek, Davis, and McClellan (2002) stated that self-esteem, perception of a positive school environment, and peer and family connectedness help students develop appropriate coping skills and decrease negative health behaviors.  We would argue that self-esteem creates some of the necessary building blocks to enhancing children’s self-efficacy, which allows them to transcend societal messages that one’s potential is determined by one’s lot in life dealt per status or circumstance.  Rather, efficacy allows one to believe that through hard work and a self-belief, success and happiness are possible.
Even through adversity, loss, and tragedy.
A focus on the care for the comprehensive needs of children is what we would like to highlight in this week’s Ed. Leadershop, illustrated by way of example in a particular program.
It is Sandy Austin’s, Believe It Or Not, I Care (B.I.O.N.I.C) program (2004).  
Through its influence, students all across the country are supported and encouraged, and as a natural outgrowth, are “stepping up” with peer mentoring. 
This program was started by Mrs. Austin at Green Mountain High School in Lakewood, Colorado 12 years ago in response to four student suicides at her school.  This student-led program helps students and staff through truly trying times.
While there are many variations of the B.I.O.N.I.C. program, at the core, four teams exist: Freshman, Transfer, Extended Illness, and Grief.  The Freshmen team matches up one Junior or Senior mentor with four freshmen mentees.  These students meet every Wednesday at a reserved table for lunch.  The Transfer team is comprised of a one-to-one ratio where mentors and mentees meet once a month for a free pizza party.  The Extended Illness team has mentors visit a mentee in the hospital or at home in order to provide companionship and to review missed classwork.  The Grief teams have several student mentors and at least one teacher drive to a home of a grieving student or faculty member, delivering a pie at the door, and saying brief condolences.  Grief team mentees are selected by having an anonymous peer put the grieving student’s information into one of four private lock boxes that a counselor will check discretely once a day.
While schools are welcome to make this program their own, a purely designed B.I.O.N.I.C. program is structured as illustrated above through the use various sub-teams.  Each of these teams has student mentors that have a specific interest or innate ability to work with peers who are struggling with fitting-in, bullying, homework, extended illness, loss, or tragedy. It comes first with adults doing their homework to ensure that the best boots are on the ground, of course.  Students are chosen through an application process, through instructor letters of recommendation, and through summer training.  These students take the task seriously and are genuinely interested in helping their peers. The benefits are in turn symbiotic, as the mentors grow socially and emotionally through the process (Blad, 2014).

One might say that this could transcend a school’s academic mission.
Thank goodness!
            In the years since its inception, we hear that over 800 schools with 100,000 students worldwide have worked to start their own, similar programs, if not to replicate hers.  After one of us reached-out to Mrs. Austin, we were better able to understand what is truly going on here.
            Ironically, a “Mrs. Austin” started this initiative.   
Those of you who have nearly a half-century in treadware probably remember a Commander by the name of Steve Austin, a television astronaut, played by actor Lee Majors in the 70’s series The Six Million Dollar Man.  Seeing him strapped to hospital instruments at the show’s beginning each week (barely alive after an aeronautics accident), we would hear a voice-over saying something similar to, “We can rebuild him . . . Make him better than he was before . . . Better . . . stronger . . . faster.”   
Steve Austin received bionic legs, a bionic arm, and even a bionic eye.  He then used his super-human powers to make our world a better place, flanked by a supportive team that offered camaraderie and a warm family feel, even if in a governmental agency. 
It’s really very similar to this B.I.O.N.I.C. program.
Surgeons . . . superpowers . . . warm feelings in a government agency.
            In Mrs. Austin’s school and others with similar practices, teams reach out to those having difficulty, from challenge to tragedy.  They then perform the necessary surgical procedures to stop the bleeding and promote healing, and as well, to offer a sense of camaraderie during the healing process.  They might even save the world, from time to time, for a child.
            I’ll bet in receiving such kind attention when needed, recipients may understand the need to pay this forward, as well.

To us, it is incredibly noteworthy that with schools today judged almost solely through factors of academic achievement (How often do we see one’s being kind, caring, and considerate on a school’s report card?), that ANY program would take so much time to focus its attention on the value of students’ helping students. 
It is an example of a positive belief in the efficacy of the next generation to develop a caring perspective and the skills to put that to best use.  B.I.O.N.I.C. is Mrs. Austin’s gift to students everywhere, and with it, students are paying it forward by accepting the challenge and “stepping up” with and for their peers. 
We might all pause for something non-academic, uplifting, and assuredly bionic.


Austin, S. (2004). Believe it or not, I care (B.I.O.N.I.C.). Creating a more caring climate in           schools worldwide. Retrieved February 10, 2016, from
Blad, E. (2014). Schools explore benefits of peer counseling. Education Week, 1(15), 11-14.          Retrieved February 15, 2016.
King, Vidourek, Davis, & McClellan. (2002). Increasing self-esteem and school connectedness through a multidimensional mentoring program. Journal of School Health, 72(7), 294-299. Retrieved February 15, 2016.


Aaron Hale and Ryan Donlan believe in the potential of our younger generation not only to let us know what it needs, but also at times (when we’re a bit short on ideas of what to provide), to help fill the voids and make a positive impact on its own generation, and generations to come.  If you would like to join them in their unabashed support of a brighter tomorrow through tapping the best resources of today, please be encouraged to contact them at or at