Story last updated at 4/10/2013 - 6:21 pm
How does a society prevent suicide? How do you get those most at-risk involved?
Students in Juneau schools are on board with combating the status quo, and brain stormed ideas for how to promote positivity.
One young man professed his love for glitter posters; another suggested a field day and a few of the female high school students brought up Facebook, rubber bracelets and the placement of magnets that promote positivity.
These were all brainstormed during a combined Sources of Strength training with students and adult mentors from Juneau-Douglas High School and Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School. A similar training program, also led by the national executive director of the program, Mark LoMurray, was given at Thunder Mountain High School and Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School.
Sources of Strength is a youth suicide prevention program that focuses on activities and values from which youth can draw strength as a means to navigate potentially difficult times they experience. Juneau Youth Services called on LoMurray, who leads training programs across the country.
Hilary Young, a behavior health specialist with JYS, is originally from Juneau, and returned after receiving her masters in social work in 2008. She came to JYS after working in a local treatment facility for females.
"One thing I really like about (my) position is that it's prevention focused," Young said. "I really, really like that we're trying to stop problems from happening, rather than picking up the pieces after they happen."
Young said JYS has programs that focus on at-risk students, but she noticed a hole: student-to-student education.
"Students listen to other students," Young said. "We wanted to figure out how to empower students and bring them in to the work we're doing."
Young reviewed a few different programs before deciding on Sources of Strength.
"It was the most comprehensive," Young said. "It had the most holistic outlook. Although it's a suicide prevention program it has the opportunity and focus on way more that: substance prevention, dropping out of school, dating violence. All these kinds of things teenagers encounter stem from the same thing."
She said the program was "empowering and strength-based," and uses a wheel with eight resources identified as potential strengths youth can utilize: mental health, family support, positive friends, mentors, healthy activities, generosity, spirituality and medical access.
In preparation for the trainings, adults who work in each of the schools that were noted as being approachable and who had strong relationships with students, were selected as adult mentors for the training. Additionally, influential students were selected to participate.
"The idea is to get the most influential students across the whole social spectrum, and get them to make positive decisions and to be positive and supportive people," said Patrick Roach, one of the adult mentors selected at TMHS. "It's like a grass roots movement."
Doug Blanc is a Community in Schools (dropout prevention program) employee at Juneau-Douglas High School, and one of the adult mentors in the school's Sources of Strength program.
"We were particularly looking for students with leadership qualities," Blanc said. "High school is a tough time. It's critical that students have other students that they feel they can talk to, and that they're also aware there are adults they can talk to too. That's all part of the program."
During the daylong training programs LoMurray had the students and adult mentors engage in ice-breaking activities, brainstorm ways they gain strength and ideas for how to spread an over-arching positive influence into their respective schools.
"The training was a lot of fun," Roach said. "It (was) very active; a lot of games designed to get people talking, to share, to interact. So much of the program is built on personal stories of strength that we wanted those stories to get out there."
Roach said the students at TMHS decided to start a school newspaper, named after the program. He said the students will compose and publish articles relating to the eight sources of strength. He said the students wanted to add poetry to the publication, and will be interviewing faculty members in the school and publishing the profiles so the students can get to know the staff better.
"The idea is just to reinforce what we're trying to do with the program, which is to let students who are struggling know they have resources that they may have not considered in their lives," Roach said.
Terra Pierce, a sophomore at TMHS, said that when she found out she had been selected as one of the program participants, she was told it would be an opportunity to help other students around the school.
"I thought it was a wonderful program because all students are valued and they all have something significant to contribute to people around them, and if we can help them, then it will uplift our society," Pierce said.
The Sources of Strength students were not only selected for their approachability, but also for possessing the ability to communicate with adults if they recognize the need.
"There are things that students don't want to talk to adults about," said Brian Holst, a freshman at JDHS. "This is a way that (those) students can be heard by adults."
Manuel Guillen, a junior at JDHS, said that before he was notified he was selected to participate in the program he was already interested in preventing suicide through the use of spreading feelings of hope. He recognizes how adults can be positive resources, but said that the student-to-student communication the Sources of Strength program promotes can have a larger affect.
"They have an idea, the adults," Guillen said. "That's why they post up all these papers about suicide and relationship and substance abuse. But I think that the student body, not just the student body of the Sources of Strength, needs to get excited too. It's something that can really help them and they should take advantage of this. We really want to help people. When you see suicide, maybe it didn't always appear that (a student was) suicidal, and out of nowhere it might have just happened. That's when people come to think: How can we help? How can we stop that? That's the biggest challenge, to really dissect the problems. I always think about that, how can we see the real problems before they happen?"
Holst said that during the training and meetings following it, he and the other students decided it would be an effective positive move to visit middle schools, in order to introduce older students to those who will be entering high school.
Sarah Landen, a JDHS junior, gave the example of a recent soccer trip. She became closer with a younger classmate, one who perceived a social barrier between upper and lower classmen, and the soccer trip was a way to help dissolve that perceived barrier. Landen hopes the program will carry on that message and facilitate more student-to-student communication.
Both high schools have plans to mentor and recruit incoming freshmen in the fall.
"That's always a problem with people coming into a building for the first time," Roach said. "They feel strange, isolated. Because the (Sources of Strength) students are all very positive students from different social circles, the freshmen will hopefully identify with someone."
Young said she hopes the program will flourish beyond school doors. She would like to see the message of positivity that the program emphasizes decrease bullying and other unhealthy activities.
"It's a hard time in life, trying to figure out who you are and what you want to be," Young said. "You need positive mentors and role models."
Young said when a group of students are asked whether they have someone they can talk to that it's generally those involved in sports or other established groups that raise their hands.
"There's a whole group we're missing," she said. "Are we being generous? Do we need to do more? Maybe there's one kid that has good family support. Another kid may have good friends but no family support. How could they work to develop a stronger sense of family support?"
Young said ideally the students will naturally spread the message of positivity cultured by the program into other aspects of their lives.
"To me Sources of Strength is an opportunity to reach out to students in our school that are struggling and let them know they are important," Pierce said. "Let them know they have something to contribute, whether it's small or big, it all matters.
Amanda Compton is the staff writer for Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.