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The City Journals

HOPE Squad spreads positivity at Taylorsville High School

Jan 29, 2019 04:55PM ● By Jet Burnham

During a lunchtime activity, club members encourage students to make friendship bracelets and write positive notes to each other. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

When a student called for homework accommodations from a mental hospital, Stephanie Floch wasn’t sure what to do.

“I was still a new teacher, and I just had to navigate all those things—I had to figure out, as a teacher, ‘What are my boundaries?’ and ‘What should I be doing?’” Floch said. Counselors provided advice, and then an administrator provided information about Hope Squad. Floch headed up the club as a solution that included not only teachers and counselors but also students.

Taylorsville High counselor Claire Dukatz said the program is a great way to educate students about mental health issues and its warning signs so that they can help their friends.

“Students are more likely to open up to other students than adults,” Dukatz said. She said having extra people trained to spot at-risk students means counselors can help more of them.

“We don’t see the students in the hallways and in class, so it’s really the peers that hear them talking in the hallways,” she said.

Hope Squad members are trained to recognize warning signs of suicide ideation, to know what to say and what not to say to be helpful, and to know how to refer their peers to an adult for help. They strive to be friendly to everyone, make connections with others and regularly check in with peers they know are struggling.

“The whole goal for Hope Squad is to raise more awareness for suicide prevention and for mental health issues around the school,” Floch said. “I definitely feel like it’s been making a difference just for students to know there are faculty members and students that are go-to people who are qualified to help out and are approachable and know what to do and what not to do.”

Floch and Dukatz, along with fellow faculty member Nicole Lavely, are advisers for the club, but the program is mostly student-driven. The 30 members of the squad recently planned a successful Hope Week to remind students that they are available to help. Lunchtime activities promoted social interactions through trivia games, mindfulness exercises and crafts.

The Hope Squad also used social media challenges—based on daily themes—to spread positive messages.

On Meme Monday, students posted positive-message memes on their social media. On TimeWarp Tuesday, they posted memories from a time when they felt happy and then posted pictures of calming places on Wind-Down Wednesday. The week ended with Thoughtful Thursday and posts about good friends.

“We were trying to say you can help people get through tough times with social media,” said Kate Okabe, a sophomore.

Throughout the week, students were encouraged to write Hope Grams, complimentary notes to be delivered to other students during class.

“It makes me happy when I get one, so I try to do as many as possible to other people,” said sophomore Merryim Loose, who joined the squad because she feels good when she can help friends through tough times. Her brother Robert, a naturally outgoing person, was nominated by his peers to be on the squad.

“For me, it’s just pretty much what I always do — I just try to make people laugh,” he said.

THS has had a Hope Squad for four years. Eisenhower Jr. High started its Hope Squad this year.

“We have had many positive experiences with our Hope Squad so far,” said Eisenhower club adviser Kristina Moore. “They really look out for and take care of the students here at Eisenhower. We know that they are having a positive impact on their classmates.”

Being a member of Hope Squad has a positive impact on its members as well.

Anaeli Pham, a senior, was bullied in 10th grade (at a different high school). Through squad training, she has learned about healthy boundaries and support systems.

“Being in Hope Squad just made me realize that there are good people out there,” said Pham. “It gave me people to talk to when my friends were in trouble and I didn’t know what to do for them.”