McCain Middle School is among 19 Idaho schools recently selected to receive a state Sources of Strength grant, funding an effort “to fight against teen suicide by decreasing risk factors and building positive influences,” according to a news release.

Grants of $2,400 are to help cover two years of program activity. Among last year’s grant recipients was Payette High School, where counselors are looking forward to the program’s second year. Fruitland High, the first school in Payette County to implement Sources of Strength, was awarded its two-year grant the previous year.

“Sources of Strength is a proven program that cultivates supportive relationships between students and trusted adults, and builds protective factors in youth such as hope, persistence and willingness to seek help,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said in the release. “I’m thrilled that these schools across Idaho are embracing this resource to support their students and prevent future loss of life.”

Each school gets $2,400 to support adult advisers in the schools and to help fund peer leader activities for students to imbed the ideas and messaging of Sources of Strength throughout the student body in the coming school year, Ybarra said. The program, launched in 2014, is part of the Idaho Lives Project, a joint effort of the State Department of Education and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Suicide Prevention Program.

Jeff Walker, one of two counselors at Payette High, said that he and fellow counselor Lew House were pleased with developments during the program’s first year at PHS.

“There were seven staff members, and we went to an all-day training in February … getting us prepared as leader mentors, and it was wonderful. It helped us to understand how to really work with students and kids, and how Sources of Strength worked. Mr. House and I were really impressed with the optimism of Sources of Strength, and looking at kids that have difficulties, but doing it in a positive way, and really making a change,” Walker said.

Not long after the staff training, Walker said, the Sources of Strength training team provided an all-day training session for approximately 40 student peer leaders. “And then in March we carried out our first real campaign with the peer leaders, called Trusted Adult,” Walker said. “They talked about who is a trusted adult, what makes a trusted adult, why should we have a trusted adult. I would say, honestly, close to one hundred percent of our students named a trusted adult. The [peers] developed a film and they went into each one of the classrooms and showed that film about what a trusted adult was. We did an assembly with all of the school, all of the student body and the staff in the auditorium, related to it, and it was successful.”

Peers had an ice cream party near the end of the school year to celebrate the program’s success to that point, but people were already thinking about what should happen in year two. Walker said adult leaders and peer leaders will meet in September to begin that planning in earnest.

“They (peer leaders) will organize their next large campaign, what they want that to be with the students and how it will affect the students,” Walker said.

Sources of Strength conducted a survey of the PHS student body, peer leaders, and staff to gauge the effectiveness of the program’s campaign in the first year, Walker said. Results will be made available to peer leaders and staff during follow-up training they’ll receive early in fall.

Generally, peer leaders concentrate on making connections with five to 10 students each, Walker said.

“They’re trying to make connections with a group of five to ten kids that they really can have an influence on in helping them make good, positive decisions and choices in their life. We got some feedback from the peer leaders that the students enjoyed it, they understood what a trusted adult was. … Things are moving in the right direction,” Walker said.

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