March 7, 2019
By David Nordby The Brillion News
WRIGHTSTOWN – Self-harm, depression and suicide aren’t easy things to create a dialogue for. With the student-led Sources of Strength program, Wrightstown High School students are able to talk about those and more with each other.
“The idea with the program is that things are a lot cooler if its coming from their own peer group, not us adults,” Director of Student Services Caroline Mihalski said.
Sources of Strength is a nationwide program in its first year at Wrightstown. Last spring, the school received a grant from the Department of Education and the program was among those the school wanted to add.
“Kids just weren’t as resilient as they have been in the past. We were feeling like, ‘What can we do to prevent this for the majority,’” Mihalski said.
Mihalski says that there are other districts in the area they reached out to, including Hortonville, who have Sources of Strength in place.
“The reason we let it be slow is because we really wanted it to be kids leading it,” Mihalski said.
Initially, the school staff was trained. Then an adult leadership group was put together. The adult group nominated kids for the student group. No one was forced into joining the group.
“A lot of our kids have been saying like, ‘We want our school to be a safe place, a happy place, where kids feel resilient and connected to each other,’” Mihalski said.
One of the big pieces of the program is that at least 10 percent of the student body should be actively involved in the group, which is how the school landed on having 55 members make up the student group.
“We were really thoughtful of choosing kids from all different kinds of groups, all different kinds of backgrounds, so that we were making sure to reach a friend of a friend of a friend,” Mihalski said.
She notes that while there are students involved who are used to being in a leadership position, the majority are students who aren’t.
“Research shows that a preventative measure of suicide is feeling connected to their peer group,” Mihalski said.
Students worked together and created a panel with representatives from each grade level.
Last Wednesday, a video on what Sources of Strength is about was played in the gymnasium. Afterwards, students were put into groups with their homeroom and wrote down sources of strengths.
The result was a tree that’s on display in the school cafeteria with tree roots and leaves that show sources of strength –the students conceptualized the idea.
Roots of the tree include friends, family, spirituality, generosity, medical access, mentors, healthy activities and mental health. The top of the tree includes a wide variety of activities and hobbies the students find strength in.
No students were forced to participate either.
“That feels like the opposite of what we should do if we’re all about building hope, help, strength, connectedness,” Mihalski said.
The program is a long-range one with a plan spaced out over three-to-five years designed to improve school culture and help students transition in post-graduation life.
“Everyone has tough things in their life, but kids need to go into their adult life with the tools to be resilient to handle the tough things in life,” Mihalski said.
Please see the complete story in the March 7, 2019 edition of the Brillion News.