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Hope Squad Aims at Changing the Culture at School

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(Gillette, Wyo.) Last year a new movement started at the Campbell County High School South Campus. The Hope Squad is a school-based peer support program that empowers selected students to take action to improve the school environment. This year, both Campbell County and Thunder Basin High Schools have active Hope Squads in which students are trained to identify suicide warning signs in their peers and to seek help from trusted adults.

The Circles4Hope concept was developed by Dr. Gregory Hudnall, a former high school principal in Utah, after he was asked in 1998 to identify the body of a 14-year-old that had taken his life in the public park next to the school. Hudnall recognized implementation of Hope Squads played a substantial role in reducing the number of suicides.

“The vision is to create a cultural shift within the school. This is something that takes time. We are really early in the process.” said Thunder Basin Counselor Amy Himes. “Hopefully you just see an increase of students caring about one another.”

The student body nominates the members of the Hope Squad, who are then trained to watch for at-risk students and eventually seek help from trusted adults when needed.  There are 27 students on Thunder Basin’s Hope Squad and 15 students on Campbell County’s Hope Squad.

“Students outside the Hope Squad don’t always see like the change up front because we do a lot of things they don’t know [about],” said TBHS Senior Mychal Voigt. Hope Squad members are the eyes and ears of the school. They can talk to the counsellors about situations they observe and do so anonymously. “So, I think a lot of change is going on underneath the surface and I think that it will start to show more throughout the years, but right now I don’t know that other students are able to see that.”

TBHS Freshman Gabe Gibson said he’s noticed a difference in the way some students react to him personally after the Hope Squad anonymously gave out encouraging notes and candy to fellow students earlier this year.

Bolt Man and Bolt Woman spread Hope Squad knowledge on the TBHS’s TV station.

Himes said the Bolts Hope Squad has other activities planned throughout the year including “Chasing the Blues Away” through the winter months with fun games and activities during the lunch hours.  Hope Squad members will also post random Hope messages around the school, in library books and places you may not normally expect.

The Camels Hope Squad served hot chocolate and gave out candy canes before school on the Monday before winter break. This month CCHS is creating a video to introduce members of the Hope Squad in a fun, creative way.

CCHS Hope Squad Advisor Tressa Horning explained Dr. Hudnall met with the staff in September during their advisor training for the program.

The goal of Hope Squads is to train students and staff in schools to recognize suicide warning signs and act on them, build positive relationships among peers and faculty in schools in order to facilitate acceptance for students seeking help and change the school culture regarding suicide by reducing stigmas about mental health and suicide.

Both Gillette High schools are in their first year of the program so the students are focusing on learning Hope Squad Fundamentals laid out by Dr. Hudnall at Hopesquad.com:

  1. Suicide Warning Signs: Learn and identify the common warning signs of suicide among peers.
  2. Become a Peer Advocate: Learn how to best help a peer who may be exhibiting suicidal warning signs.
  3. Talking about Suicide: Become confident in talking about suicidal thoughts to a peer who may be struggling and understand the importance of referring that peer to an adult.
  4. Self-care: Understand how to set healthy boundaries and practice self-care when helping others.

The Hope Squad is designed around a three-year curriculum at the high school level and it usually takes two or three years to start to change the culture of a school.