“In high school, it’s very easy to feel misunderstood,” junior Soli Ficco told dozens of Golden High School students and faculty, elected officials and members of the press on May 24. “ … It’s so valuable to know that you’re not alone.”
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For those in crisis or to talk about a general mental health concern, contact the Colorado Crisis and Support Lines at 844-983-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255.
For the National Suicide Prevention Line, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text “HELLO” to 741741.
The year before Brian Conroy took over as Golden High School principal, three students died by suicide.
So, when Conroy became principal in 2011, GHS brought in Sources of Strength, a student-led program focusing on mental health.
On May 24, the students and faculty shared their experiences with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and other officials, hoping that more schools will take mental health seriously.
“In high school, it’s very easy to feel misunderstood,” junior Soli Ficco told dozens of GHS students and faculty, elected officials and members of the press. “ … It’s so valuable to know that you’re not alone.”
Ficco added that even though students like helping their families and communities, it’s important for them to take time for themselves.
Sources of Strength, according to the program’s website, was founded in 1998 and has spread to hundreds of schools across the country. It’s a strength-based, comprehensive wellness program that works to prevent suicide, substance abuse and violence.
GHS teachers and Sources of Strength advisors Diane Nickell and Alisha Lawhorn explained that, of the 1,400 students, 60 were Peer Leaders during the 2021-22 school year.
These Peer Leaders are students from various social groups in the school whose word carries weight with their peers. The program helps students to work with their peers to identify the strengths in their life, Nickell and Lawhorn stated.
Freshman Noa Morgan said 2021-22 was the first time since sixth grade she had a real school year. Her seventh- and eighth-grade classes were almost completely online, and she felt very isolated from her parents despite being in the same house.
So, having a program like Sources of Strength to help her form connections with her new classmates was imperative. Because teachers don’t always know what’s going on, it’s crucial that students can talk to each other, Morgan described.
After the roundtable, junior Luke Henderson felt it went smoother than he’d been expecting. Of the topics the group didn’t have time to tackle, Henderson stressed how important it is for students to be outside and active, especially over the summer. They should stay in touch with their support systems as much as possible, and reach out to people if they need to talk.
“Staying on your phone all day is only going to create so much connection with the world,” Henderson said. “ … It took COVID for me to realize how important it was for me to spend time outside, spend time with friends, doing hobbies and activities.”
Weiser told the roundtable attendees he hoped to bring GHS’ successes elsewhere. Teen mental health is a nationwide concern, as emergency room visits, overdose deaths and other warning signs are rising. While his office’s Safe2Tell program gets a lot of calls about suicide, these are in the very late stages. He wanted to find outlets like Sources of Strength to prevent suicide and improve mental health by helping students form connections with each other and their teachers.
“This is what true north looks like,” Weiser said, looking around the GHS library. “It’s on people like us to keep it going.”
Reinforcing the work
Along with connecting with their classmates for Sources of Strength, the school’s Peer Leaders also put together larger mental health-focused campaigns, such as the trusted adult program.
This one, Conroy and others explained, encourages students to find a mentor who can connect with them, show them that they care, and help them navigate the challenges of being a teenager.
“If kids don’t know that we care, and they’re worried about mental health and safety, then they’re not worried about history, music, and other disciplines they’re here for,” Conroy continued. “Because they’re spending so much brain power on that worry.”
The trusted adult program has also been rewarding for the faculty as well, school psychologist and Sources of Strength advisor Chris Reed added. Part of the program involves students writing thank you notes to their mentors, describing what their support has meant to them.
“There’s been a little bit of burnout over the last few years,” Reed said of teachers, “and (the program) reinforces for them the work we’re doing with our kids — the importance of that relationship.”
School nurse Valerie Borowiec said she was experiencing that burnout both as a faculty member and a nurse, but Sources of Strength has improved her morale along with her colleagues and students’.
“We get out of Sources of Strength as much as the students do, if not more sometimes,” she said.
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