Hope Squads Making an Impact on School Culture

Hope Squads Making an Impact on School Culture
Posted on 09/20/2019
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hope squad collage of photosLakota East and West’s Hope Squads used last week’s National Suicide Prevention Week to spread positivity and help break the stigma about mental illness issues.

At West, squad members passed out Life Savers and high-fives to students as they entered school, and they held a school wide egg hunt (eggs were filled with a positive message, treats and even a chance to win homecoming tickets).

East’s Hope Squad also passed out Life Savers, created treat bags that included buttons with positive messages and, as students left the building at the end of the school day, the exits were chalked with messages letting students know that they are valued, they matter and they are loved.

It takes about three years to affect a culture change, but the effects of Hope Squads after just one year are evident.

“The impact that Hope Squad has had over the last year as a whole is amazing to me,” said West squad member Jake Gerding. “I hear there are more kids going to guidance to talk about things, and the kids that are not that comfortable to talk to a counselor have come up to me and asked me to talk. Other Hope Squad members have asked for help with someone who needs a friend. While we might not be the biggest group at West, we are there for everyone who needs us.”

East junior Michelle Antiri added, “Being a part of a culture change at East is something I never thought I would do, but I am so grateful to be witnessing such positivity being spread. “

Seemingly little things like holding open the school doors on Monday mornings and sharing a positive greeting can make a big difference.

“Hope Squad is meant to make everyone feel like there is someone in their corner,” said East senior Ellie Lesiten. “We just want to make people smile by doing small, meaningful things. High school can be brutal to those who feel like they don’t fit in, but we want to make sure everyone has a place and everyone is wanted and loved.”

Lakota high schools were one of the first in the area to pilot the peer-to-peer suicide prevention program at the start of the 2018-19 school year. Now nearly 100 schools in the tri-state area have Hope Squads; Lakota plans to expands the program to its four junior schools this year.

Students are nominated by their classmates to be a part of Hope Squad, and there are 15-20 members per grade at the freshman and main campuses. Nearly all students plan to be part of Hope Squad all the way through their senior year.

Students who volunteer receive training in how to spot students in trouble, and guidance on how to help. One of the first lessons focuses on what’s called QPR – an acronym for question, persuade and refer – where students learn how to develop a relationship with a person while looking for signs of depression. Lakota’s Hope Squads meet once or twice a week for training and to plan activities, and are in the second year of a three-year training curriculum.

In schools where Hope Squads have been formed, data shows that over 25 percent of all referrals to counselors have been from Hope Squad members. Of those referrals, 14 percent have been hospitalized for treatment.  

Increasing awareness about Hope Squad is important to its success. East has introduced a Hope Squad wall with photos and names of its Hope Squad members this year, and both squads have activities planned throughout the school year, both in and outside of the school walls.

“We believe it's important to show who we are right now to the whole community and encourage kids to speak up about how they feel,” said West squad member Lora Broz. “We are looking forward to spreading positivity and fun at elementary trunk or treats with a lifeguard-themed vehicle, and we also plan to get involved in middle schools. As high schoolers, we know how hard it is in middle school to find yourself.”

The Lakota Hope Squads are working together to plan activities for the East/West football and basketball games. Each school will hold a special Hope Week in the spring, and plans are underway to have the squads be part of the Reds’ Opening Day Parade. Lakota East will be hosting the regional Hope Squad conference in November, so that area squads can come together to learn from each other.

“Making a difference doesn’t have to be something big, it can start with something as simple as a warm smile or a kind gesture,” said East junior Allison Browning.

Whether it is passing out free hot chocolate on a cold day or sharing post-its to encourage kindness, Hope Squad encourages not only its members but the entire school to reach out to other people and to show compassion.

“By building and strengthening bonds between people, it lets everyone know that whatever they’re dealing with, they don’t have to face it alone,” continued Browning. “It helps make kindness more prevalent not only in our school building and community, but in ourselves as well.”