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Hope Squads: kids help other kids prevent teen suicide

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SALT LAKE CITY — A new system aims to bring hope to troubled teens — through the use of something called hope squads.

Before teachers and administrators from the Provo School District decided to take a more active role to prevent teen suicide, the district experienced an average of 1 to 2 suicides per school year. That average reflects the years between 1999 and 2004.

That was an unacceptable average.

After a year of national research on peer-to-peer programs, Hope4Utah was born. It was a labor of love for Cathy Bledsoe, the Assistant Director of Hope4Utah.

“We commissioned our school counselors, psychologists and social workers,” Bledsoe told Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic on KSL Newsradio, “to take a year and look at peer-to-peer school programs across the country.”

Hope4Utah is born

Hope4Utah introduced something called Hope Squads to Utah schools. The squads are groups of trained students that walk the hallways of Utah schools as well as schools in 18 other American states. There are also Hope Squads in Canada.

“Once we started [Hope Squads],” Bledsoe said, “we went nine years without a suicide.”

The key was training students to help students, not as counselors but as friends. And if your friend is struggling, Hope Squad students are taught, you help them get help.

Thousands of Utah kids are helping

The Hope Squads debuted at Timpview High School in 2004. Today, Bledsoe says that in Utah there are more than 7,000 students in Hope Squads from 4th to 12th grade.

“These kids are looking out for kids that are sitting by themselves,” Bledsoe told Dave and Dujanovic, “who are walking down the hallway with their heads down, by themselves.”

The research shows that youth will text or talk to a fellow student if they’re struggling, before they talk to an adult.”

Bledsoe says that it helps students to know that there are other students they can turn to.

“What we’ve seen happen,” she told KSL Newsradio, “is when they have a Hope Squad, after a while, it changes the culture of the school.”

Hope Squads: a ripple effect

Specifically, she says that when kids see a group of kids who are modeling the positive behavior of reaching out, and not bullying, “you have a ripple effect.”

“We’ve heard over and over again that when students see this behavior, they model it,” Bledsoe said. “And they learn that it’s okay to reach out if you need help.”

Teachers and administrators who want to bring Hope Squads to their school should visit the Hope4Utah website, where they’ll find resources and contact information. There is also information at the site for families who are looking for resources.

Two upcoming events will spread the word about Hope Squads. The Walk for Hope on September 28, and a speech by Dr. Matt Woolley, co-host of KSL’s Project Recovery podcast. Woolley will present information at Salt Lake Community College in Sandy about teen anxiety, depression, and screen time. You can find more information here or text TEEN to 57500 to secure a spot at the free event.

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