A student group has been created at each Mansfield ISD middle school to help and potentially save the lives of their peers.
Hope Squad is a support program to help kids who may be struggling or at-risk of harming themselves.
The goal of the program is to reduce youth suicide through education, training and peer intervention.
“It’s really just about fostering that culture on the campus of support and encouragement and kindness and connection, so that everyone really feels included and a place of belonging and a place that kids want to be all day long,” said Jennifer Powers, director of guidance and counseling.
Powers said she has worked for more than a year to bring Hope Squads to MISD. Through a partnership with The Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation, the program was able to launch at MISD middle schools.
Hope Squad members are nominated by their classmates as trustworthy peers and then trained by advisors to be alert and know when other students might be in distress. Instead of waiting for a peer to come to them, Hope Squad members are the ones to reach out first.
“We’ll try to talk to other students and make sure they’re feeling okay, mentally or physically. And if they’re not, we will try to refer them to go talk to a counselor or other Hope Squad adult,” said Kaylee Berger, an eighth grade Hope Squad member at Brooks Wester Middle School.
Fellow member Kooper Kelley noted that there’s a stigma placed on people who need help, especially males. His goal is to debunk that way of thinking.
“A lot of people like to bottle up emotions,” said the seventh grader. “A lot of men, we try not to cry. Boys try not to cry; but when you have someone to talk to, it kind of makes you feel better.”
Hope Squad members strive to create a safe school environment and promote connectedness. They also work to support anti-bullying, encourage mental wellness and reduce mental health stigma.
“Students can’t be successful if they don’t have hope, if they don’t have positivity, if they don’t feel included,” said Powers. “Adults can’t be successful if they don’t feel those same things as well. So, it’s vital that we have that positive feeling on our campuses.”
Although the Hope Squads are starting at the middle school level, Powers said she hopes the groups will eventually be at all MISD campuses.
Currently, Hope Squads are located in more than 950 schools in 31 U.S. states and Canada. Since its inception in 2004, Hope Squad has referred more than 5,000 students for help.