Guiding Young Minds
Story by Michael Seguin
Few educators can match the passion of Windsor’s Kelli Koski.
Kelli Koski (née Sirianni) has been teaching for the last seven years, having just wrapped up the 2019-20 school year at Leamington District Secondary School. She specializes in English and History, and recently has been teaching Civics and Careers.
And Kelli brings some unique life experiences to the classroom. While working for the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Education, Kelli instructed the Leadership Experience for Academic Direction (LEAD) program. As part of LEAD, Kelli spearheaded Project BLAST, a teenage empowering project.
“BLAST was based off an event called Challenge Day,” Kelli states. “It was something I was able to take part in as a university student at my old high school as a facilitator. It was just so life-changing and eye-opening for me that I felt everyone needed to experience something like this.”
BLAST allows youth the opportunity to engage in discussions about mental health, sexuality, privilege and other significant issues. The intent of the program is to build resilience and empower its participants.
Kelli ran BLAST for four years with both the local Public and Catholic Board. In addition, she was also able to use the event for research during her Master’s thesis on Leadership and Resiliency.
“BLAST had a really great run,” Kelli states. “There was always a lot to take away from each event. I still keep in contact with some of my Facilitators. A lot of people gave their time and emotions to make these individual events happen.”
While Kelli is no longer involved with BLAST, she has carried the program’s mandate of empathy and compassion forward into her lessons.
“One particular event from BLAST that I’ve incorporated into the classroom is Cross the Line,” Kelli explains. “How it works is that the students stand behind a line—literal or metaphorical—and a number of statements are made, for example: ‘Cross the line if you have ever been made to feel that you are not good enough or unworthy.’ Those who identify with the statement ‘cross the line’ and turn to face those who haven’t crossed. After a moment of silence, you cross back. It’s a way to acknowledge the struggles of others without offering up an explanation. People are always quick to offer their advice, but sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to just listen.”
This coming 2020-21 school year, Kelli is set to teach at Vincent Massey Secondary School and W.F. Herman Academy, where she will continue guiding young minds. Because, for Kelli, it’s all about serving the next generation.
“I, as a teacher, understand my responsibility,” Kelli states. “To the world. To society. To generations. To the kids who need a mentor. I went into teaching to mentor. I’ve never forgotten my experiences with BLAST. I bring them with me into the classroom every day.”
Continue reading for the original story we ran on Kelli which appeared
in the May/June 2015 Edition of Windsor Life Magazine:
Connecting With A Sisterhood Of Inspiration
Story by Karen Paton-Evans
Photography by LiquidWild Media
As a young educator, Windsor’s Kelli Sirianni looks beyond academic scores and strives to appreciate how each student is affected by realities, in and out of the classroom. To help students learn more about themselves and one another, Kelli organizes Project BLAST events in local high schools.
#YOUbeautymoment, created by Erika Harnish and Carly Nicodemo to spotlight the positive, beautiful attitudes and actions of Windsor-Essex women age 40 years and younger, catches up with Kelli and Project BLAST.
Similarities not differences
Totally inclusive experience.
Those are the positive elements of BLAST, an empowering project for teens coordinated by Kelli Sirianni.
At age 25, Kelli is not much older than the students she tries to help. “When I was in high school, we never had information so easily accessible to us. I am a strong believer in social media and other technology, but in healthy and positive doses. As someone who has never had significant struggles in my life, I still cannot help but look back on high school and say, ‘Well, I’m happy that’s over with…’ I truly cannot imagine being a teen now, where your life is a showcase for all to see and unfortunately, judge.”
Currently working for the Greater Essex County District School Board and the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Education, Kelli instructs the Leadership Experience for Academic Direction course for teacher candidates and teachers from local public school boards. As part of LEAD, Kelli is responsible for Project BLAST.
Students participating in a BLAST event meet in their school’s gym for icebreaker games and meaningful activities that give the youth opportunity to talk about stereotyping, marginalization, bullying and abuse, mental health, sexuality and other issues that concern them. “Although these are heavy topics, BLAST creates a safe and inclusive environment where all experiences and opinions are respected,” Kelli says. “BLAST uses empathy as a vehicle to openly speak about our challenges – and for some post-event, seek some much needed guidance.”
She finds that, “By the end of the day, the energy is high and there is a clear sense of community present in the room.”
“It is inspiring to hear students be so open and vulnerable in front of their peers, on small and large scales, at each event and to have so many others students coming forward saying, ‘I had no idea’ or ‘I am going through the same thing; I am here to support you.’ What is even more inspiring is the hope so obviously embedded in them by the end of each event and the desire to reach toward what is better and more positive,” says Kelli.
“Above all, it enforces the fact that everyone has a story, and that everyone carries with them joys and their challenges. It encourages us to be kind, to be empathetic and to be compassionate, because you never know what someone else may be feeling or dealing with.”
Kelli says, “As a teacher, I regularly remind myself of my experiences and the stories I have heard at BLAST events. There are days when I have classes that are a bit off or rambunctious, as well as students who at times are visually distraught, frustrated and sometimes even angry. I make an effort to remind myself that everyone has different things going on – who knows what a student in my class may be going through that may be a reason that he or she just can’t focus and is acting out or perhaps not as productive as others. Patience is key! You just never know. I don’t want to be the person to make someone’s day worse, so I do my best to give students a break and be flexible with them.”
More than 15 BLAST events have been held locally since 2012 and the project is expanding. BLAST and its impact on resilience, sense of belonging, communal respect, empathy, compassion and acceptance were the focus of Kelli’s thesis for her Masters of Education degree. “I have taken BLAST and its now significant research with me to a number of conferences and plan on continuing to do so in hopes of raising awareness about this program,” she says. “In June I am scheduled to attend and present at the Pathways to Resilience Conference in Halifax – I am super excited about this!”
Looking farther into the future, Kelli says, “My hope is to continue with Project BLAST, bringing it to as many schools and organizations as I can. I am looking forward to conducting more research on BLAST on a more long-term basis, as well as continuing to bring forward BLAST as a whole to conferences and workshops. I plan to continue working with and instructing the LEAD course.”
For anyone who is interested in Project BLAST or becoming involved in an event, please contact Kelli at firstname.lastname@example.org.