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Ten years later, the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund keeps Lauren’s legacy alive
November 10, 2021
On the bottom of the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund’s website is a video of Astley performing a solo with the Wayland High School’s female a capella group, The Muses. She stands at the center of a semi-circle formed by her group members with her own microphone, singing Breathless by The Corrs.
Barely a month after her high school graduation and her 18th birthday, Lauren was killed by her ex-boyfriend. Within weeks of her passing, friends and neighbors of Lauren Dunne Astley launched the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund to preserve her memory. The Fund works to promote “healthy teen relationships, the arts and community service.”
Lauren’s parents, Mary Dunne and Malcolm Astley, created educational talks about their daughter’s story and breakup violence. They have spoken at over 250 schools, colleges, religious organizations and civic organizations through the Fund. Along the way, they picked up tools and resources to add to their curriculum.
This past July marks the 10th anniversary of Lauren’s passing and the formation of the Fund.
Now, Lauren’s father spearheads the Fund and devotes his life to developing healthy relationship curriculum in schools. A priority of the Fund is to spread awareness on the prevalence of violence against women in romantic relationships.
“The statistics [say] three to five girls and women are killed every day in our country,” Astley said. “It’s so hard to keep that conscious in our minds because we don’t want to think of ourselves that way as a country or as a species. Why would humans be doing that? But we do, and it’s all over the world. It occurs at different rates in different countries, and that’s important too. [The rate in the United States] is higher than many countries, it’s part of the hard facts that’s hard to come to face and do something about.”
In the aftermath of Lauren’s murder, Wayland Public Schools administrators began evaluating the healthy relationships and dating violence awareness curriculum offered in wellness classes.
“Before, there was some healthy relationship curriculum, but nothing like MVP or the stuff we are doing now,” WHS wellness department head Scott Parseghian said.
At the time of Lauren’s death, Parseghian and current Wayland High School principal Allyson Mizoguchi were assistant principals. Both Parseghian and Mizoguchi were certified in the One Love program from the One Love Foundation. The wellness department worked in tandem with REACH Beyond Domestic Violence to revamp the healthy relationship curriculum. Implementing the program was part of an expansion of the wellness department, which included hiring more staff.
“I would say there is more of a sort of through-line in the [healthy relationship curriculum] since Lauren’s death,” Mizoguchi said. “These were topics that we had addressed and wanted our students to engage with before her passing, but I think her murder forced us to really examine other places in the curriculum and other ways that we wanted our students to really grapple with these issues, so they have the skills to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again.”
Now, the WPS healthy relationship curriculum begins in middle school and focuses on friendships. Freshmen at the high school examine toxic romantic relationships and watch the documentary “Reviving Ophelia.”
With a lot of these complex topics, we don’t want students to just intellectualize them, but to bring them into their lives in very active and meaningful ways. It’s about being able to do things, not just understand statistics.
— Allyson Mizoguchi
The curriculum continues throughout high school. Juniors spend half a semester of wellness in the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, which focuses on de-escalation and violence prevention. Juniors also participate in the Rape Aggression Defense program (RAD), which splits wellness classes by gender. Girls learn self-defense techniques as well as how to identify and avoid potential safety threats. Boys learn to “raise their awareness of aggressive behavior, recognize how aggressive behavior impacts their lives, learn steps to avoid aggressive behavior and consider how they can be part of reducing aggression and violence.”
“I think that with a lot of these complex topics we don’t want students to just intellectualize them, but to bring them into their lives in very active and meaningful ways,” Mizoguchi said. “In that curriculum, it is very much about real-world scenarios and having open and honest conversations with one another, including not just skills about detecting healthy relationships in our own lives. It’s about being able to do things, not just understand statistics.”
The Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund continues to work with WHS and its healthy relationship curriculum. Mizoguchi said that the Fund, as well as the other organizations the district works with such as REACH Beyond Domestic Violence and the One Love Foundation, helps the school keep the curriculum current.
Astley and Parsegian both said they are hopeful age-appropriate healthy relationship curriculum can start in elementary school or earlier.
“[The Fund] thinks it needs to be age-appropriate talk, but that it should start in preschool and it should be about boundaries: no, you can’t touch me without asking,” Astley said. “If you can get very young children working on that, then it makes much more sense talking about consent for any kind of intimacy later on. We need to build it, and right now we’re sort of building a skyscraper from the roof on down. We’re working with the higher grades, when in fact we should have started with the lower grades and worked up.”
Parseghian said he wants a health teacher for the elementary schools who would cover healthy relationships in grades four and five.
Another topic Astley said he wanted to be incorporated into healthy relationship curricula is what he calls the “at-risk emotions.” Astley said these 12 emotions can cause tremendous pain and confusion, and he listed shame as an important emotion for friends, teachers and family to be on the lookout for.
“A psychologist social worker named Brene Brown defines shame as the concept not that I made a mistake but I am a mistake,” Astley said. “When [people] run into a breakup, there is another triggering off of that original shame and even shame of shame. So you’ve got this layer cake of hard feelings and I think we need to, in our curricula, get those on the table, talk about how to recognize them in ourselves and others and what we can do about it.”
A psychiatrist friend said to me that all our relationships, no matter how precious they are, end: in breakups, divorce, or death. We have got to be open about that.
— Malcolm Astley
Astley hopes that when students come out from a healthy relationships curriculum, they’re able to identify warning signs in their peers’ behavior, especially around breakups. For younger students, these skills could begin with discussions about loss and how to grieve well.
“Humans have this incredible capacity to connect, but we don’t provide skills for the pain and confusion that come with this connection,” Astley said. “We have got to be open about that not to shut people down, but to have people be open about the potential pains about their care and love for others even if that love is not returned to you.”
The Fund has multiple initiatives in the works. Astley said there are laws that require healthy relationships and violence prevention curriculum to be taught at schools, and that he works with the state to build accountability infrastructure that would ensure the necessary curricula is implemented in every school in Massachusetts.
Astley is working on producing a 20-minute video that will include interviews with 10 to 15 specialists who have studied healthy relationships and violence prevention from different fields. He hopes the video will serve as a resource for students and communities to understand the problem of dating and domestic violence and possible action steps.
“We want it to be hopeful, as well as to build awareness and get the hard facts out there,” Astley said.
On April 1, the Fund hosted a virtual remembrance for Lauren on what would have been her 28th birthday. The remembrance included a capella performances from Blacklight Vocals, a reunion of WHS muses past and present, photos of Lauren and videos of friends and relatives describing memories of her.
Lauren’s youth minister Erin Splain said she remembered Lauren’s “glowing, gorgeous, fervent soul” and her “great laugh.”
I was right at 17 that I would miss her forever, but I was wrong to dread that fact or to fear it because it is in that grief and missing that I have deepest appreciation for the years I was able to call her my best friend.
— Hannah Blahut
“I remember her love to laugh, even at her own expense, in an awkward moment,” retired WHS history teacher Kevin Delaney said during the remembrance. “One of her greatest strengths was her eagerness to jump into the conversation fray confidently forwarding her thoughtful comments rooted in a deep sense of humanity.”
Friends and family described her as “self-assured,” “vibrant” and “creative.” A quasi slogan of the Fund is “keep on sparkling,” a reference to Lauren’s fun-loving personality.
“I really miss how she seemed to know every single word to every popular song, almost before it even came out, and driving around in her red Jeep with the windows down, all of us screaming at the top of our lungs,” Lauren’s friend Hannah Blahut said, also during the remembrance. “I was right at 17 that I would miss her forever, but I was wrong to dread that fact or to fear it because it is in that grief and missing that I have deepest appreciation for the years I was able to call her my best friend.”
The Fund will continue to preserve Lauren’s memory and her legacy, and Astley foresees he will continue to engage in violence prevention work for years to come.
“We can learn to prize the precious things that we gradually lose,” Astley said. “It’s one of the amazing things about being human: we care, we love and we lose, and it’s an ongoing cycle to be prized, not to be afraid of.”