In 2001, the US suffered roughly thirty-thousand suicides, some three thousand of those committed by youth 15-24 years of age. These devastating and unprecedented statistics clearly revealed the need for intervention. They also shed light on the general population’s inability to verbally address the issues of mental illness and suicide.
In 2003, Dr. Gregory Hudnall, then a high school principal, developed the HOPE squad program. After experiencing the loss of several students in his district to suicide, Dr. Hudnall decided to combat the statistical reality of the situation. His goal was to end the stigma against mental illness and suicide. He believed that by implementing a program within the school system, he could drastically decrease youth suicide rates. This belief resulted in the HOPE squad program as it exists today. The program utilizes peer nominated students trained to notice, reach out to, and assist fellow students who may be struggling with depression and suicide ideation. The ongoing rise of suicide statistics across the nation makes this program a continuously important effort.
Since its inception, the HOPE squad program has gone into successful practice throughout the country. Morgan High School became one of the two hundred and seventy-one schools participating in the program during the 2016-17 school year. For the current school year, the squad includes over forty students, all of whom are heavily involved in their school, and communities. MHS student counselor Destiny Field says that often the greatest challenge is finding time to train and plan activities. “Since all of these students are the cream of the crop and involved in every different club, sport, and organization at MHS and in their communities- it is virtually impossible to get them all in the same room at once!”
However, members have made a recent effort to meet together, in order to plan and execute the school’s annual HOPE week, which was sponsored by the HOPE squad, and held January 7-11. HOPE squad members collaborated to plan and hold activities for the MHS student body. They assigned a theme to each day, and came up with supporting games, activities and projects. “The main goal of HOPE week is to spread awareness of suicide prevention efforts,” says Field, who acts as the head advisor for squad members. “The secondary goals are to spread kindness and HOPE for students who may need a lift who are just blending into the crowd right now.”
On Monday January 7th, students donned superhero masks in a homemade “photo booth.” The theme for the day was “‘Marvel-ous’ Monday: Make A Difference and Be a Hero In Someone’s Life!”
Tuesday’s theme was “Tag-It Tuesday.” Twenty-five note cards placed randomly throughout the school served as inspiration for random acts of kindness, as they made their way around the school throughout the day. Students were randomly selected to perform the acts of service, take a picture, and pass their cards along.
“Wear Yellow Wednesday,” was a huge success. The doors opened to a school covered in bright yellow sunshines, and huge yellow banners spread across the campus. Students were encouraged to wear yellow as well, complimenting the temporary decor. The goal of the day was to lift students’ spirits, and encourage them to recognize what brings light and hope into their lives.
Squad members chose to carry on the tradition of “Thankful Thursday,” and provided thank-you cards so students could write to faculty, staff, and other individuals who make a difference in their lives and bring them home. Hundreds of uplifting notes were written and delivered throughout the day.
The finale of the week’s festivities came in the form of, “No Fear Friday,” which proved to be one of the most successful days of the week. Students were invited to join the “No Phone Zone,” during their lunch hour. Here they could participate in games and get to know peers they might not have otherwise had the opportunity to get to know.
Overall, HOPE week 2019 achieved its goals of strengthening student relationships and helping students who may be struggling to identify peers and faculty they can turn to for support. Morgan High students developed a closer bond, and became more comfortable in their school environment. HOPE squad members were excited with the results of their planning, and look forward for future activities.
For more information on the HOPE squad program, contact the MHS counselling center, or visit: https://hope4utah.com.