To say that raising kids in today’s fast-paced lifestyle is a challenge would be an understatement. Even under the best circumstances, knowing what behaviors are typical and what are cause for alarm can be difficult to discern. The statistics surrounding youth mental health are troubling. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the second leading cause of death in kids aged 10-18 years. Additionally, the number of children experiencing some type of mental health issue is on the rise, with well over half (62%) of kids who suffer a major depressive episode receiving no treatment.
In an effort to change the dialogue surrounding youth mental health, one school district is meeting student needs head-on through the implementation of a unique peer-to-peer program. Over the past school year, the West Allis School District has taken steps to implement Hope Squad, a program that partners a school-based peer support team with local mental health resources. The goal of the program, according to the Hope Squad website, is to “reduce self-destructive behavior and youth suicide by training, building, and creating change in schools and communities.”
The AB Korkor Foundation is thrilled to help support the efforts of the district’s Hope Squad programing through on-going financial support. According to Nic Bur, West Allis School Counselor and Hope Squad Lead, the Foundation’s donation will allow the district to invest in additional curriculum, training and licensing fees as well as provide for student activities at each of the participating schools.
The impetus behind the Hope Squad program is simple—address youth mental health issues head on. We wanted to implement a program to help students who are contemplating self-harm actions as well as providing support for students in
general,” Bur notes
According to Bur, even in the short amount of time the program has been in place, there have been numerous students who have sought out Hope Squad members to “share self-harm actions, suicidal thoughts and other emotional concern.” When this occurs the Hope Squad member refers the student to a school counselor and social worker so that they can receive the appropriate care.
Each of the district’s secondary schools (grades 6-12) are currently involved in the Hope Squad. In his role as Program Lead, Bur works with the advisors from the six schools involved to ensure that they have the proper resources and training to implement the plan in their respective schools.
To date the district has 180 Hope Squad student leaders who are nominated by their peers and choose to be involved because they truly believe in the program. Using students is a key to helping kids feel secure sharing their struggles. “By developing and training student leaders, it gives other students an opportunity to connect with a peer if that makes them more comfortable,” says Bur. “This is a program that creates leaders while allowing schools to better reach out to students who are struggling socially/emotionally.”
Deidre Roemer, the District’s Director of Leadership and Learning believes that the program helps both students who are struggling as well as the Hope squad members and even the school staff. “Hope Squad has been a powerful way for our learners and our staff to create new ways to support each other. The Hope Squads are creating connections between learners that are on the squad as well as making sure they use strategies to reach out and include others. When learners feel they belong, they are more likely to seek out the support they need, both emotionally and academically, to feel successful.”
The AB Korkor Foundation will continue to provide financial support over the next several years to help the district grow their program. Some future goals include the expansion of Hope Week, an annual event at each participating school, and additional student training and team-building activities.
In the end, the objective is to help kids who are dealing with a mental health crisis understand that they have options and support. “We do not want students to feel alone or like they have no hope. We recognize that involving peers is an important part in recognizing concerns and providing students with this hope. Sometimes, Hope Squad may be saving a life,” Bur concludes.