Looking to be a resource for classmates

How do you reach a kid that is struggling — struggling with friends, or bullying, problems at home, or to feel like anyone cares?
In Flandreau, a growing network of students is meeting almost weekly to try and figure that out because they want their classmates to know that someone does care.
They call themselves the Hope Squad.
The Hope Squad is actually a nationwide program aimed at reducing youth suicide through education, training, and peer intervention. School counselors Kari Lena-Helling and Chelsea Molden learned of the opportunity this past year and applied for a grant to help implement it in Flandreau. Awarded that grant, Flandreau then became the first school in the state to adopt the curriculum.
“It is intimidating to start a new program; especially one that addresses such a serious concern. Based on my experience with our students, I knew that this type of program was needed and that our students could handle it,” Lena Helling told the Moody County Enterprise.
Is there really an issue? Absolutely, counselors and many others will tell you. Suicide remains the leading cause of death among those ages 10 to 19 with American Indian youth dying by suicide at a rate 6x higher than White youth rates. According to the latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS): 23.1% of SD students seriously considered attempting suicide. In 2019. 9.4% of SD students made a plan about how they would attempt suicide, and 12.3% of SD students attempted suicide.   
The squad has slowly been building as members are nominated by their classmates as trustworthy peers and trained by advisors.  
“My hope is that because of technology, and every kid has it,” said Molden, “Is that kids are more apt to talk to their friends about how they’re feeling and the kids are the best proponent to help if someone is feeling sad, depressed, or has the warning signs of things they might say or do.”
Currently, there are more than 90 students involved with the program ranging  from 4th through 12th Grades. Fourth grader Molly Kelm said that she’s learned how to, “... help others if they’re lonely, you can comfort them and make them feel better.”
Kelm’s classmate Brekken Johnson added that he’s learned that if for instance at recess, someone doesn’t have anybody to play with, “I’d ask them to play with us.”
Instruction at the younger ages isn’t as in-depth, but it is still helping with life skills and mental health issues. It focuses on what hope means, talking about safe and unsafe secrets, and learning more about setting both emotional and physical boundaries.
Simple and small steps? Maybe. But as students and advisors witness the impact, they’re talking about it with other schools. And they are signing on.
“I am so proud of our students for being brave and caring so much about their peers that they were willing to be the first Hope Squad in our state,” said Lena- Helling.
Seventh grader Rosa Sanchez Fuentes said, “I’ve learned that caring about other people is important because when we say positive words to them we can make their day better. We as humans need to feel loved and important around others…We all are important in this community.”
Lena-Helling wanted to be sure to recognize so many who continue to grow this initiative — among them; Emma Peters, FPS’ Social Worker and a Hope Squad Advisor; Christin Weston and Stephanie Langdeau, both helped to start the Hope Squad program last school year, the two were FSST Liaisons at the school and they also joined on as Hope Squad Advisors; Moody County Cares and Avera Flandreau Clinic, together they purchased Hope Squad t-shirts for each member; Royal River Casino sponsored Hope Week last school year and purchased Hope Squad sweatshirts for each member; and the Hope Squad students for listening, learning, and “growing into amazing leaders for our school and the Hope Squad students’ families for their support.”
Parents who might want more information on the program, what is taught or shared with students, head to ParentGuidance.org. There you will not only find information, but you can also anonymously submit questions and receive a written/video response by a therapist.