Sources of Strength Comes to Yorktown

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Sources of Strength Comes to Yorktown

Teachers from Yorktown are part of this new program.

Teachers from Yorktown are part of this new program.

Courtesy of Yorktown Counseling on Twitter

Teachers from Yorktown are part of this new program.

Courtesy of Yorktown Counseling on Twitter

Courtesy of Yorktown Counseling on Twitter

Teachers from Yorktown are part of this new program.

Evan Rotker, Sentry Staff Reporter

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This year, Arlington implemented Sources of Strength, a program dedicated to shifting the way mental health and suicide prevention are viewed amongst students. While many programs focus on the sadness and trauma associated with suicide, Sources of Strength centers on a more hopeful mindset. 

“[The program’s mission] is to promote hope, help and strength in students and in everyone,” counselor Austin Hamill said.

Sources of Strength has seen great success across the country, and our school is a part of a new wave to implement it in the area. Along with the other Arlington high schools, McLean, Robinson and West Springfield High Schools are also starting the program this year. The program’s expansion was prompted by the rise of mental health issues and suicide rates of teenagers. Many are confident about the future and can see Sources of Strength expanding quickly to combat these problems.

“I have all-out confidence in this program and I have yet to hear any bad stories about it or any complaints,” Hamill said.

The first step in materializing the program was for a select group of staff at our school to attend a week-long interactive training for school staff from across the country. The goal was to give the trainees an upbeat set of activities to complete, rather than boring them with depressing statistics and checklists — a staple of the Sources of Strength mission.

“They really try to immerse you into the program; they’re not just sitting there lecturing you,” Hamill said.

The interactivity made the message more powerful for the staff members from our school that attended, which included counselors, school psychologists, instructional assistants, administrators and custodians. Their message’s power quickly trickled down to students when the program was brought from the nationwide training into our school. To introduce the program, roughly 40 students were selected by counselors and other staff to be peer leaders. Students chosen typically had a wide array of connections to the school community. 

“We really focused on wanting to get a really good cross-section of all the students,” Hamill said.

After their selection, the peer leaders went through similar training across a full school day. It included group discussions, personal stories and brainstorming sessions. 

“[The training] definitely put into perspective my issues … and made me feel a little bit better about them because other students have the same issues,” senior William McClennan said.

This was a common sentiment amongst the peer leaders, as the training provided a great outlet to share personal details with peers. Even though the overarching mission is suicide prevention, the training had a more uplifting feel, one of hopefulness driven by strong personal connections between a diverse school population.

The intention is to carry this inspiration from the small group of peer leaders into the entire student body. The first step of this process is a countywide initiative called the Trusted Adult Campaign. This was created to ensure that every student has someone at school who they feel comfortable sharing personal struggles with and knows that helpful resources are easily accessible. One idea for the introduction of this campaign is a volleyball tournament where students would be split into teams with trusted adults as their coaches to forge a connection.

“They can build that relationship up so that if there ever was a time where they needed that trusted adult, they’d know them and [the adult would] be ready to help out,” McClennan said.

After this campaign, the program is up to the students with the oversight of Hamill and Activities Director Michael Krulfeld. At other schools, everything from social media initiatives to art projects has been taken up by the peer leaders. All of these projects share a common goal: shaking past messages of shock or trauma and replacing them with a spirit of helpfulness and strength for everyone at our school.