In a bid to bolster the mental health and overall well-being of students, the Hernando County School Board welcomed a presentation on the ‘Hope Squad’ program during their workshop on September 19th, 2023. The presentation was delivered by Bethann Brooks, the HOPE advisor at Central High School, one of the high schools chosen to participate in this pilot program.
The initiative was first introduced by the school district at the end of the last school year, generating considerable excitement among students and faculty across the county. The HOPE program has a multi-faceted mission, including fostering the inclusion of all students, providing support for their social and emotional learning, and celebrating diversity. The program’s primary goal is to enhance students’ mental health and reduce the “stigma” that comes with seeking help for mental health issues.
One of the key aspects of the Hope Squad’s agenda is the promotion of connectedness among students, an essential tool in combatting bullying and ensuring overall school safety. Additionally, the program aims to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and encourage students to seek help when needed.
The Hope Squad curriculum is provided by the company of the same name, and currently, the local program is in its core phase. According to the Hope Squad website, www.hopesquad.com, The Hope Squad is a peer-to-peer suicide prevention program. Hope Squad members are nominated by their classmates as trustworthy peers and trained by advisors. The program reduces youth suicide through education, training, and peer intervention.
The initial weeks of the school year have been dedicated to team-building activities, allowing students to become familiar with the program and its goals. Topics covered so far include inclusiveness, gratitude, and honesty.
At present, 24 dedicated student volunteers are actively participating in the Central High School program. Since the beginning of the school year, four students in need have been referred to Guidance Counselors by the HOPE Squad. The students are given special passes, expediting their access to guidance counselors in cases of immediate need.
To foster a sense of unity and pride among its members, student volunteers in the Hope Squad receive T-shirts, wristbands, and buttons. The students use these tokens to serve as symbols of their commitment to promoting mental health and well-being within their schools, as well as advertise the availability of the program to other students.
One notable feature of the Hope Squad’s activities is the ‘Lifesaver challenges.’ These challenges encourage students to identify peers who may be isolated and engage in conversations with them, helping to create a more inclusive and supportive school environment. The challenge is named after Lifesavers candy, a simple tool that participating students use to “break the ice” and begin conversations with other students. In addition to these in-school efforts, students are encouraged to refer their peers to a HOPE advisor or guidance counselor when in school or counseling and crisis intervention lines when they are at home.
The response from students has been overwhelmingly positive, with many expressing enthusiasm for the program’s potential to make a difference in their schools. As the pilot program progresses, educators and students alike hope it will continue to grow and positively impact the mental health and well-being of Hernando County’s youth.