Sources of Strength Peer Leaders at Sterling Middle School are helping to bring students and staff at their school together. Highlights of the SOS program and what the peer leaders are doing were shared at a RE-1 Valley School Board meeting Monday.
Sterling Middle School Principal Bob Hall said the school started working on the SOS program last summer, in August they were asked to put it on the back burner but then it was picked up again after school started. Previously, the program was being run by Michelle Long, one of RE-1’s social 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 put together.
“It’s difficult to come in and take over a program when you’re not in the building and you don’t even know where we’re at with it,” Hall said, commending CMHC, especially Mikayla Guenzi, one of Centennial’s school-based professional specialists, who is in the building at least once a week with her colleague Katie Johnson meeting with the Peer Leaders and doing things for kids and staff. “Our plan obviously is to continue to move it forward as we go.”
SOS is an upstream prevention program with a mission to provide the highest quality evidence-based prevention for suicide, violence, bullying and substance abuse by empowering peer leaders and caring adults to impact the school through the power of connection, hope, help and strength.
“Even though it is a prevention program, really at its core Sources is a wellness program,” Guenzi said.
While SOS covers a number of topics, the core components 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 been working hard to come up with several different campaigns that have occurred since November to promote the components of SOS. Activities have included a Random Act of Kindness campaign, where the peer leaders placed candy and a note stating “we are thankful for you” on the lockers of all students and a bulletin board decorated to spread awareness about the SOS program and the monthly pieces of the wheel. The peer leaders have also organized monthly art contests, inviting all students to submit art that represents what different components of the wheel mean to them for a chance to win a gift card and have their art featured on the SOS bulletin board.
“One of the parts of the wheel is healthy activities and a lot of times our students relate healthy activities to things like sports and exercise and those things are all fantastic, but they really wanted to hone in on those healthy activities like music and art and reading and things like that, that are fantastic for our mental health that 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 presents in order to encourage students to interact with each other and promote positive friends. Plus, last month they hosted a table at the Valentine’s Day Dance to promote SOS and handed out candy with notes about self love attached to them to the students at the dance.
February activities also included a three-part mentor campaign. For the first part, all students took a survey that asked them about which staff member at the school is a mentor to them and what makes them a good mentor. Then the peer leaders created a wall to display the almost 200 responses that were received in order to promote students engaging with trusted adults within the school and show how many mentors they have available to them.
The top four staff members named as mentors were given flowers and a thank you card. Guenzi said about 75% of the staff members at SMS were nominated at least once.
While the peer leaders were unable to attend the board meeting, Guenzi shared some comments from them.
“We as peer leaders at Sterling Middle School appreciate having a chance to have our voices heard by running campaigns in 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 grow Sources of Strength within our school,” they said.
Right now a majority of SMS’s 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 trusted adult advisors.
“Adult advisors within the school help Sources of Strength work at its best by supporting, mentoring and assisting peer leaders in spreading hope, help, and strength-based messages across all of the school members,” Guenzi said, pointing out that having adult advisors in the school would give the peer leaders a chance to meet with them more frequently than they do the CMHC advisors.
Currently, the SOS program is being implemented at Campbell Elementary, SMS and Sterling High School. Guenzi said there is a possibility of extending it to Ayres Elementary with the program’s new kindergarten through second grade curriculum that rolls out next fall. At the elementary level, there are lessons and Guenzi and Johnson talk to the students, but it’s not as collaborative as it is at the high school and middle school level.
“What we do is we teach little lessons about all the parts of the wheel, we also talk about emotional regulation, body frame and body science and what it means to connect with trusted adults,” Guenzi said. “So, they’re getting kind of that base information before they get into the high school and middle school levels, where they get to take more of a collaborative approach with trusted adults and adult advisors within the schools.”
Asked if the peer leaders from SMS and SHS are ever able to work together, Guenzi they had an idea to do something like that for the mentor campaign last month, but then the students came up with the staff mentor campaign and decided to go with that instead. But, SHS is very much interested in working with the peer leaders at SMS at some point in the future.
Later in the meeting, the board heard a new program that is being considered that could help RE-1 Valley and other school districts with truancy issues. Board president Steve Shinn shared that he has been contacted by Jamie Sniezko, an attorney who does a lot of work with juvenile cases. She is working in concert with Chief 13th District Court Judge Carl McGuire to try to revive a truancy program that has been dormant for some period of time.
“They do perceive a significant problem, not just in RE-1 Valley, but throughout Northeast Colorado and are trying to come up with positive techniques to address truancy,” Shinn said.
They plan to give a presentation to the board when their plans have been further finalized.