r By Laura Giles
Hope Squads are becoming more and more prevalent in Utah and across the United States. South Utah County is not an exception. There are currently Hope Squads in every junior high and high school in Nebo School District and they are making a difference in the lives of students.
Hope Squads began with Hope4Utah, a suicide prevention program started by Dr. Greg Hudnall in 2005 in Provo, according to www.Hope4Utah.com. The Hope Squads are made up of students who are nominated by their peers as people who are kind, easy to talk to and are good listeners. These students become the eyes and ears of the school. They do not act as counselors. Rather, they learn to watch for warning signs that another student may be in trouble.
Just last year in Utah, 1,100 kids were referred for help through the Hope Squads, according to Hudnall. Without the Hope Squads, possibly these students would not have received the help that they needed. Additionally, 30 students were hospitalized after being referred for help from members of the Hope Squads.
After being nominated by peers, members of the Hope Squads meet together often and are trained by advisors in a variety of areas including anti-bullying, inclusion, having hope, resilience and watching for warning signs in others.
The Hope Squad members also have opportunities to share what they are learning with the rest of the kids in the school. Many schools have a Hope Week. During this week, there are daily activities that help teach about these important topics. Other schools choose to do monthly activities that include the student body.
Mapleton Junior High School Hope Squad Advisor Kirsten Hullinger said that one benefit of Hope Squads is the increased awareness of others. “Because they are more aware and more educated about suicide, anxiety and depression, they feel more comfortable sharing this information that they have learned with family and friends and the circle of understanding and education expands,” she said.
“The kids on Hope Squad recognize that they are not counselors, but peers that have influence and the knowledge to help other peers in need when they recognize or hear about something that is concerning. They take concerning comments, postings, texts and emails more seriously and take it upon themselves to alert an adult that can get the kid who is struggling the help that they need,” Hullinger said.
Hope Squads at Nebo’s secondary schools are going strong. Many schools across the state are now adding Elementary Jr. Hope Squads for students in fourth through sixth grades. While the topics are similar to the secondary Hope Squads, the lessons are different for elementary students, using language, literature and activities more suited to their ages.
In 2017, the state legislature earmarked funding for 90 elementary schools in Utah to fund suicide prevention programs, such as Hope Squads. There are currently 270 Hope Squads in the state of Utah and there are Hope Squads in ten other states and Canada.
For more information about Hope Squads, go to www.HopeSquads.com.