“It’s all boys all the time,” laughs Leslie McRae, Vice Principal at Sherwood School.

Those boys are a small group of grade nine students taking part in the WiseGuyz program at the school. Once a week they meet in a designated classroom for part of the school day and Tristan from Calgary Sexual Health Centre facilitates the program.

To someone peeking inside the classroom, sometimes it looks like a regular healthy sexuality class, sometimes it looks like boys roughhousing and joking around. But something more important is really going on.

This is a program that teaches boys about consent and healthy relationships, not just STIs and anatomy. It’s challenging the boys’ views of masculinity and teaching them to look critically at the media messages they see every day. It’s tackling bullying and homophobia. It’s a program about respect and empathy.

“This is really the only thing out there that’s just for boys,” says McRae. “It’s so important to have something directed just to them about things they wonder about, delivered by people who can address those things.”

“They have somebody who’s open to hearing things that they’re talking about and lets them be silly and ask weird questions.”

She recently saw the impact of the program when an RCMP officer came in to talk to the school.

“It was a fairly deep presentation; he talks about things like suicide and bullying, family issues that you don’t talk about. The boys who stayed behind after the assembly to shake his hand and say thank you were the WiseGuyz.”

“They grow from the program, and they feel more confident,” she says. “They start to look at bigger issues, rather than just ‘if it’s my issue’ – that’s really what I see from their actions.”

McRae also says that one of the most unexpected outcomes for her is the bonds the boys make with one another: “There are boys who are friends because of the program who never would’ve been friends without it.”

When asked why the boys want to be there and keep coming back, her answer is simple.

“They know they’re valued,” she says. “For some boys it helps keep them in school, helps keep them engaged, helps keep them connected to somebody who, if or when things go south in the future, they have one more positive adult role model to look to.”

McRae can’t say enough good things about the program and looks forward to working with WiseGuyz again in the new school year.

“It’s hard to be a teenager, whether you’re a girl or a boy,” says McRae. “The more people you have in your life telling you positive things, helping you be informed, creating a structure you can access resources from – it’s not such a big unknown world.”