Changing youth culture one Strength at a time: Sources of Strength in Torrington High School

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When Jake Martin was in high school, he and his high school football teammates didn’t talk much about their feelings. Fast forward a few years, and now he’s a social studies and leadership teacher at Torrington High School, times are very different, and his current student Aidyn Saucedo is a prime example of how. Aidyn has spent years of his education learning how to talk about his feelings, and how he can help others do the same. The result? A high school culture of positivity and inclusion that both students and teachers are proud of.

It wasn’t always like this, however. When Mr. Martin first started teaching, he asked his students to write down three things for which they’re grateful, and he was discouraged when several couldn’t come up with anything. “The world can be pretty negative, so it’s nice to be part of a program that spreads positivity,” he said.

So what changed? The Goshen County School District implemented a curriculum called Sources of Strength, a comprehensive wellness program that focuses on preventing suicide, substance use, and violence. The program is based on, “relational connections that use teams of Peer Leaders mentored by Adult Advisors to change peer social norms about help-seeking and encourages students to individually assess and develop strengths in their life.”

The program’s intentionality of hope, health, and strength is what makes it so effective at shifting culture in his school, Mr. Martin believes. It teaches students how to use hardship as a positive learning opportunity.

The best way to treat suicidality, substance use, and other unhealthy behaviors is to prevent them from ever happening, and at its core, Sources of Strength is a true prevention strategy. It’s given Mr. Martin the tools and confidence to be able to ask his students tough, uncomfortable questions like, “Are you considering suicide?”

Additionally, the program emphasizes the power and importance of peer leadership; students need to set examples for each other, or the program simply won’t work. Aidyn says that this mentality has become pervasive at his school, so kids are comfortable reaching out when they need help. He recalled how a friend texted him to warn of her the suicidal thoughts she was having. They remain friends today, but if she wouldn’t have contacted him, and if hadn’t had the awareness to alert an adult, the outcome may have been very different. “We allow people to believe it’s okay to not be okay. No one here is going to judge you for how you’re feeling,” he said.

Sheridan and Newcastle have also successfully implemented Sources of Strength programs in their schools, and the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police (WASCOP) are encouraging other schools and districts to adopt this methodology.

“If you invest in the health and well-being of students, you are investing in the health and well-being of your communities. Sources of Strength is that kind of investment,” WASCOP Prevention Project Director Rhea Parsons said.

If you’re interested in how your school or community could apply Sources of Strength, contact Shelby Gordon [email protected] or Shae Bell [email protected] or call 307-352-6677.


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