Suicide prevention program being introduced to students with hopes of improving well-being

The high school is implementing a new suicide prevention program beginning in the second semester named Hope Squad, where students in each grade will nominate peers to be intermediaries between the counseling staff and students.

High school counselor and Hope Squad adviser Sara Revetta explained that the program will begin with approximately 15 students chosen from the group nominated to be leaders in the program.

The advisers of the program will train students through weekly meetings, Revetta added.

“We will work with the students each week on identifying signs of suicide, symptoms of mental heath issues and things of that nature,” Revetta said.

Intervention specialist and Hope Squad adviser Michelle Frenz said the criteria to be chosen for the program is based on students’ listening skills, ability to be supportive and recommendations from staff members.

Revetta said the students who are chosen will receive a letter explaining what their role would be, and that their parents will have to approve of their participation. She added that the mentors are responsible for serving as safe people for their peers to speak to, and then to refer their peers to a counselor or report the situation to a counselor themselves.

The purpose of the student leaders is to provide struggling students with someone they feel more comfortable talking to, as a peer who is their own age can relate to them better than an adult, she explained. She added that the student mentors are not professionals, which makes the program less intimidating.

“We know that as a parent it would be concerning if your child was being treated like a counselor or a therapist,” Revetta said. “That’s not what Hope Squad is. Students are not therapists or social workers. They’re simply being trained to identify these signs and symptoms.”

Revetta explained that the program is made possible by Grant Us Hope, a suicide prevention foundation based in Cincinnati that helps introduce Hope Squad in schools throughout central Ohio.

Director of Student Services and lead adviser for Hope Squad Sam McMasters said the program was introduced to the high school staff after working closely with the Grant Us Hope Foundation in 2019 and 2020.

She said she is hopeful that Hope Squad can begin to change people’s viewpoints on seeking help for mental illness.

“Hope Squad is one way for students to lead efforts to destigmatize mental health support,” McMasters said.

Hope Squad is separate from Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Frenz said, and it will not be replacing their Signs of Suicide program. Signs of Suicide is a one day presentation in the 10th grade, while Hope Squad will likely be a permanent program, she added.

Hope Squad is primarily a suicide prevention program, but it can be used for other aspects of mental health, Frenz explained.

“My hope is that we don’t have much of a need for the program,” Frenz said. “On a good day, it would serve as a place for you all to come up with things that are supportive for each other.

“On a worse day, we’d be working with kids who want to take their life,” she added.

Revetta said the program will make a positive impact on the community and the high school, especially in the midst of the pandemic.

“The goal is for a culture shift,” Revetta said. “A lot of students are incredibly stressed and incredibly overwhelmed. Students have been dealing with COVID-19 and also normal teenager things, so Hope Squad will help students stay connected to adults.”

Senior Tommy Webster said he feels like the program is necessary because the emotional and mental health of many students has been affected by the pandemic.

He added that the peer mentors will make students feel comfortable talking about their feelings and experiences.

“Having a person between students and the administration makes it much easier for clearer messages to get through to the administration, as the students aren’t filtering their feelings,” Webster said.

McMasters explained that the advisers hope to continue the program in years to come.

“We are looking forward to having these student leaders in our high school and expanding our program to the middle school next year,” McMasters said.