Sources of Strength Sterling Middle School peer leaders help bring students and staff closer to their school. Highlights of the SOS program and what peer leaders are doing were shared at an RE-1 Valley School Board meeting on Monday.
Sterling Middle School principal Bob Hall said the school began working on the SOS program last summer. In August, they were asked to put it on hold, but it was then resumed after the start of the school year. Previously, the program was led by Michelle Long, one of RE-1’s Social and Emotional Learning Specialists, but when she left the district, Centennial Mental Health Center took over the program with the peer leaders that Long had already set up.
“It’s hard to come in and take over a program when you’re not in the building and you don’t even know where we are,” Hall said, praising CMHC, especially Mikayla Guenzi, l one of Centennial’s schools. locally-based professional specialists, who is in the building at least once a week with her colleague Katie Johnson to meet with peer leaders and do things for children and staff. “Our plan is obviously to keep pushing it forward as we go.”
SOS is an upstream prevention program whose mission is to provide the highest quality evidence-based prevention for suicide, violence, bullying and substance abuse by empowering peer leaders and caring adults to have an impact on the school through the power of connection, hope, help and strength.
“Even though it’s a prevention program, Sources is really a wellness program,” Guenzi said.
Although SOS covers a number of topics, the core elements of the SOS wheel are family support, positive friends, mentors, healthy activities, spirituality, medical access and mental health.
SMS has a group of 10 peer leaders who have worked hard to come up with several different campaigns that have taken place since November to promote the components of SOS. Activities included a Random Acts of Kindness campaign, where peer leaders placed candy and a note saying “we thank you” on all students’ lockers and a decorated bulletin board to raise awareness of the SOS program and the monthly parts of the wheel. The Peer Leaders also held monthly art contests, inviting all students to submit artwork that depicts what the different components of the wheel mean to them for a chance to win a gift card and see their art featured on the SOS bulletin board.
“One part of the wheel is healthy activities and often our students associate healthy activities with things like sports and exercise and those things are all fantastic, but they really wanted to focus on those activities healthy like music and art and reading and things like that, which are fantastic for our mental health, which maybe not everyone thinks about,” Guenzi said.
In December, the Peer Leader Team created a Holiday Tree for the SOS Bulletin Board and invited students to contribute to the tree by decorating paper ornaments, lights and gifts to encourage student interaction. with each other and promote positive friends. Additionally, last month, they held a table at the Valentine’s Day dance to promote SOS and handed out candies with self-love notes attached to dance students.
February activities also included a three-pronged mentoring campaign. For the first part, all students completed a survey asking them which school staff member was a mentor to them and what made them a good mentor. Then the peer leaders created a wall to display the nearly 200 responses received to promote student engagement with trusted adults within the school and to show how many mentors they have available to them.
The top four staff members named mentors received flowers and a thank you card. Guenzi said about 75% of SMS staff have been appointed at least once.
While the peer leaders were unable to attend the board meeting, Guenzi shared some comments from them.
“As peer leaders at Sterling Middle School, we appreciate having the opportunity to make our voices heard by running campaigns at our school. Sources of Strength gives us and our peers a place to go for a mental health break when needed, Sources of Strength also reminds our peers of their worth. We are excited to expand Sources of Strength within our school,” they said.
Currently, the majority of SMS peer leaders are sixth and seventh graders, CMHC hopes to grow the program by gaining more peer leaders and recruiting staff members to become involved as adult counselors of confidence.
“Adult counselors within the school help Sources of Strength operate at their best by supporting, mentoring and assisting peer leaders to spread messages of hope, help and strength to all members of the school,” Guenzi said, noting that having adult counselors in the school would give peer leaders the opportunity to meet with them more frequently than they do CMHC counselors.
Currently, the SOS program is implemented at Campbell Elementary, SMS and Sterling High School. Guenzi said there is an opportunity to expand it to Ayres Elementary with the program’s new kindergarten to second grade program rolling out next fall. In elementary, there are lessons and Guenzi and Johnson talk to the students, but it’s not as collaborative as in high school and middle school.
“What we do is we teach little lessons about all parts of the wheel, we also talk about emotional regulation, body structure and body science and what it means to connect with adults trust,” Guenzi said. “So they get kind of a baseline before they go into high school and college, where they take a more collaborative approach with trusted adults and adult counselors within schools.”
When asked if peer leaders from SMS and SHS were able to work together, Guenzi had an idea to do something like this for the mentorship campaign last month, but then the students came up with the mentorship campaign. staff and decided to go. in place. But, SHS is very interested in working with SMS peer leaders at some point in the future.
Later in the meeting, the board heard about a new program being explored that could help RE-1 Valley and other school districts deal with truancy issues. Board chairman Steve Shinn said he was contacted by Jamie Sniezko, a lawyer who works extensively on juvenile cases. She is working with 13th District Court Chief Judge Carl McGuire to try to revive a school truancy program that has been dormant for some time.
“They’re seeing a significant problem, not just in the RE-1 Valley, but throughout northeast Colorado and trying to come up with positive techniques to address absenteeism,” Shinn said.
They plan to make a presentation to the board when their plans have been finalized.