TIPP CITY — Tippecanoe High School will be implementing a Hope Squad in January with the goal of providing another resource to students to help their peers and find help themselves.
“It is a school-based, peer-to-peer suicide prevention program,” said Christine Schmidt, a guidance counselor at Tippecanoe High School.
The Hope Squad will feature a number of students, along with staff members like Schmidt, who will be able to provide self-care tips, peer support, and awareness on mental health. They will be trained on small things like self-care up to more serious topics like suicide-warning signs for at-risk students. According to the Hope Squad website, “Squad members are trained to watch for at-risk students, provide friendship, identify suicide-warning signs, and seek help from adults.”
The group will also partner with area agencies like the Tri-County Board of Recovery and Mental Health Services to receive training, such as QPR — question, persuade, and refer — training. QPR training is a type of suicide prevention training that teaches the warning signs of a potential suicide crisis, how to offer hope, and how to get help for the person in need. Tipp City Schools Assistant Superintendent Steve Verhoff said all of the staff at the district’s high school and middle school have received QPR training.
Kids are already going to kids, Schmidt said. The goal of the Hope Squad is to help students know how to handle situations with at-risk peers and respectfully refer them to an adult, in addition to reducing stigma surrounding mental health.
“We need to make sure our kids are equipped,” Verhoff said. “It’s not kids being counselors.”
Verhoff said the ultimate goal is “to create a school environment where everyone feels safe and welcome,” and for this group, it can be simple as the kids in the Hope Squad referring their peers in need to an adult.
Schmidt said she hopes the Hope Squad will do just as its name suggests: provide hope.
“A lot of kids don’t come to adults. They go to their peers,” said Schmidt said, who said the Hope Squad can provide students with someone to listen to them with whom they feel comfortable.
She said the program began in Utah and has been growing throughout the country. Schmidt said she first learned about the Hope Squad at a recent Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA) conference where the Hope Squad from Lakota East High School, located in the Cincinnati area, was featured in a discussion.
“I just felt it was something that needed to be brought to Tipp,” Schmidt said.
Verhoff, who was also previously the principal of the high school, said this has been part of the school’s initiative over the past three to four years to address mental health and wellness, as well as create an “inclusive and positive environment.” This multi-level approach has included implementing programs such as Link Crew, which helps with the transition into high school; Unity Day, which includes talks from a motivational speaker; a partnership with New Creation Counseling Center; and more.
“It’s been a pretty strategic approach,” Verhoff said.
Verhoff said when he previously worked at the middle school level in the Vandalia-Butler school district, he saw a focus on the well-being of “the whole child” — a focus that may get lost when students reach the high school level. He said he wanted the district to continue providing support and care to high school students, as well.
Tippecanoe High School’s Hope Squad is still in the process of being formed. Schmidt said 23 students were nominated by fellow students to the Hope Squad this month, but they still need to go through an orientation with their parents in January and take a class during their second semester of the year.
“I think some of them seemed very humbled by this,” Verhoff said about the students who were nominated.
“They all seemed really excited,” Schmidt said.
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