Snowy Peaks senior starts peer suicide prevention program at the school
Hope Squad is a peer-to-peer suicide prevention program that one student led the charge in bringing to Snowy Peaks this year.
The goal of Hope Squad is to prevent suicide through public awareness and education, to reduce the stigma around mental health and to serve as a resource for those affected by suicide.
Snowy Peaks class of 2021 graduate Lexi Vaille started the program for her Girl Scouts Gold Award and senior project.
Vaille started by connecting with Building Hope Summit County, a suicide prevention nonprofit, because she knew she wanted her project to focus on mental health and wasn’t sure where to start.
After looking at a variety of potential programs, Vaille and the school decided Hope Squad would be the best fit for Snowy Peaks because of its small size and because the program curriculum was appropriate for all grades.
“We couldn’t be more proud that one of our students, Lexi, chose to make this her focus for both her Gold Award and for her personal project and that our students are now taking on initiatives that are going to leave a legacy,” Snowy Peaks Principal Jim Smith said.
Vaille spearheaded the project by contacting the larger Hope Squad organization and working with Summit School District social worker Connor Catron, who will lead the program going forward.
“Hope Squad kind of came out of a natural desire for Snowy Peaks, and kind of the district in general, to look at more peer-to-peer based social, emotional programming,” Catron said. “So Hope Squad is really focused on suicide prevention as its main mission, but it does that through the avenue of allowing students to learn some intervention skills themselves.”
Catron said the program will use the QPR — question, persuade, refer — training to give student mentors in the program the tools to recognize warning signs that someone could be in crisis and how to intervene and connect them with mental health professionals.
“We wanted an avenue for our students to be able to help one another and to be able to start to gain the skills around mental health and crisis response that we think everybody just as a general rule should kind of have,” Catron said.
Hope Squad currently has 14 students who were nominated to be peer mentors, and Vaille said every student who was nominated to be a mentor accepted the position. Students from each grade level at Snowy Peaks — seventh through 12th — are represented, and Vaille said there are still two spots open to be filled by the incoming seventh grade class next year.
“They’re just kind of a voice, or someone the students can talk to when they feel like they need someone to talk to, because students are more comfortable talking to their peers than an adult,” Vaille said. “So those students know how to respond to things like that, and then they know when to take that to an adult.”
All Hope Squad programs are required to have a community partner to help with outside referrals, Catron said, and Building Hope is the local partner the Hope Squad team thought of as soon as they decided to take on the project.
Building Hope Executive Director Jen McAtamney said her organization’s role is to connect the school with strong curricula supporting mental health.
“Anything that we can do to reduce stigma around mental health challenges for kids and create more places where they can have opportunities to connect around their feelings and the emotions and the life that they’re living, the better,” McAtamney said. “The more we can give kids those skills that they can then authentically share with other peers, it’s that much better than an adult like me coming into a school.”
Smith said programs like Hope Squad show that Snowy Peaks is what its students make of it.
“At Snowy Peaks, we start with relationships, and the most important thing is that every student who walks through the door feels safe, respected, included and loved by our community, and I think this is something we’ve wanted for a long time,” Smith said.
Now that Vaille has graduated and will pass leadership of the program over to Catron, she said she hopes to see Hope Squad grow as a resource in the community.
“It’s exciting to see how excited the students are — not only the peer counselors, but everyone at the school seemed very excited about it,” Vaille said. “And that felt really good to know that other people were wanting to do the same thing as I do: help others and take care of other people.”
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