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Draper Journal

St. John Middle School adds Hope Squad to bring suicide prevention to forefront

Mar 28, 2022 10:09PM ● By Julie Slama

St. John Middle School recently formed a Hope Squad and held its first Hope Week to bring awareness to suicide prevention. (Photo courtesy of St. John the Baptist Middle School)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It was a week of fun, wearing favorite football jerseys, adding stickers to water bottles, and eating doughnuts, but it was more than that.

St. John the Baptist Middle School’s first Hope Week was held recently to bring awareness to suicide prevention and help students know who the newly formed Hope Squad is and what they do to help, said Kelly Pecora, St. John Middle Hope Squad adviser.

The idea of the football jerseys was to “tackle” suicide by bringing awareness to it, and to pass out doughnuts to remind their peers how awesome they are. The stickers—“You’re amazing,” “Just breathe,” “I was made for sunny days”—are to be lasting affirmative reminders. There also was a presentation about the SafeUT app.

Pecora also said that hopefully, through daily challenges, students made friends by saying hi to someone they didn’t know or sat with someone new at lunch.

St. John’s Hope Squad began this year as an idea from a parent.

“Through positive conversations and excitement from the teachers, it has really taken off,” said Mary Thorne, St. John director of student services and Hope Squad adviser.

Thorne said studies show students are more likely to talk to peers than an adult or parent.

“Mental health is a big issue, and during COVID-19, kids have internalized things more than they did in the past. It’s really important that they know they have someone they can talk to,” she said.

Sixty students were nominated in each grade or more than 200 nominations before ultimately narrowing it to 12.

“The students filled out a survey if they need somebody to talk to, who would they feel comfortable talking to. I think that’s really impactful that our Hope Squad is seen as these people,” Pecora said.

Before being named to the squad, “we talked to the kids and their parents to make sure this was something they were comfortable with and understood what they would be doing,” she said. “The squad knows they are a safe place to listen and give support and then report back if they need help.”

When help is needed, school counselors step in to give the student the supports and resources they need, Pecora said.

The squad, comprised of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students, is trained to recognize warning signs in depressed or suicidal teens and empower them to seek help from adult through QPR—ask question, persuade them to talk and refer to a trusted adult, she said.

“The kids have really taken the initiative and ownership of Hope Squad,” Pecora said, adding that they have given presentations about suicide prevention and Hope Squad to each grade.

In envelopes outside the nine Hope Squad advisers’ classrooms and offices, there are cards with names of the squad members and advisers along with the SafeUT crisis line, which is anonymous. Daily, the Hope Squad wears red lanyards to identify them to their peers and wear Hope Squad T-shirts on dress-down days.

While St. John Middle hasn’t had any known suicide attempts, Pecora said that the preventative measure is important as she knows from working at other schools, students are addressing this issue.

“It’s astonishing how many elementary age students have thought of suicide and know about self-harm,” she said, adding that many people find talking about it can be uncomfortable. “It shouldn’t be uncomfortable. It’s just another emotion that we have sometimes, and we need to deal with that.”