Hope Squad brings awareness to mental health concerns

Program offers peer support, activities for students.

A calming room at Tippecanoe High School gives students needing support or to just get away from things for a short time somewhere to go.

The room located in the school office area and near counselors was created this year as part of increased emphasis on mental health in schools and, at Tippecanoe, is equipped with everything from fidgets to Play Doh, a stationary bike and a lava lamp.

Among those who help run the calming room are members of the high school’s Hope Squad, which helps bring awareness to mental health concerns and the availability of support.

This is the third year for the program at Tippecanoe.

Hope Squad members are nominated by their classmates who are asked for recommendations.

Those selected must be students in good standing, have to agree to confidentiality of other students and have their parents’ approval to participate.

The student role in Hope Squad is not as a counselor, but referring and helping a peer in need, said Christine Schmidt, a Hope Squad adviser at Tippecanoe High School. ”It is a life skill to be aware, and know what to do,” she said.

Among this year’s Tippecanoe squad members is freshman William Hept, who said he is glad he participated in the project.

“When I first heard about Hope Squad, I thought this really called to me because I really enjoy helping people in need,” Hept said. “The topic over suicide prevention and mental health is a really big topic in today’s world. I just feel like we need more people in Hope Squad.”

So far, the Hope Squad curriculum has helped him learn more about suicide prevention and how to spot someone with troubles in the everyday world, Hept said.

The Hope Squad curriculum is from the Grant Us Hope Foundation in Cincinnati.

As part of the awareness campaign, Hope Squad has hosted events such as a recent Hope Floats day offering a free root beer or strawberry float for any student. Participants were asked to write on a cup the name of a staff member who they wanted to thank for keeping them “afloat.”

A Hope Squad program also is active at Northmont High School, where Amanda Schroeder is a student assistance counselor. This is the second year for the program at Northmont.

She has seen the program grow along with the students participating, she said. The Hope Squad members are chosen through a method similar to that at Tippecanoe.

Schroeder said she has seen students embrace the project, with some more open to advocating for mental health services and bringing in more prevention services.

“This has included advocating for intimate partner violence resources, drug and alcohol resources, signs of suicide resources for all students and utilizing social media appropriately through the positiv.ly app and #ICANHELP,” she said.

Both Schroeder and Schmidt said they think Hope Squad is paying off.

“As the student assistance counselor at the high school, I have seen a number of students who were contemplating suicide be more open to talk to me or a member of the Hope Squad to get help. Our Hope Squad saves lives and I have seen it first-hand countless time throughout the past two years at Northmont,” Schroeder said.

“We are seeing positive results,” Schmidt said. “I think it has definitely raised awareness of mental health and breaking the stigma. Teachers are asking about it,” she said. “I think students feel safer to talk about it at school than they used to. At very least, I think we have a positive image.”

More information on the Hope Squad program concept is available from the Grant Us Hope Foundation at grantushope.org.

Contact this contributing writer at nancykburr@aol.com.

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