HEALTHY MIND MATTERS

Junior Hope Squads Combating Bullying, Suicide In Elementary Schools

Jan 31, 2020, 11:24 PM

CLEARFIELD, Utah – Nearly 800 elementary school kids were learning how to be better friends and reach out to others at a special junior Hope Squad event held at Clearfield High School.

The peer-support system helps students connect with others and teaches them how to spot their peers who could use a friend.

“In our meetings, we learn other things about helping people and helping others,” said fifth grader Adelinn Stapely.

At the elementary level, they mainly focus on anti-bullying, resiliency, and mental wellness.

“The elementary Hope Squad is really the introduction to what Hope Squad is really about,” said Greg Hudnall, executive director of Hope4Utah. “They spend one full year on anti-bullying. They spend one full year on resiliency, and then they spend another year on mental-wellness. We have about 25,000 that are just…every single day, coming to school, wanting to make a difference.”

Among the topics discussed Friday was suicide prevention. It may seem a bit heavy, but Hudnall said the problem cannot be ignored.

“We had an experience down in Utah County, where we lost a fourth grader to suicide,” he said. “So we knew that we needed to start at a younger age.”

Junior Hope Squads have been around for a while but were relatively new to elementary schools from Salt Lake, Davis, and Weber counties at Friday’s conference.

“I think it’s really important to start at the elementary level because it sets the foundation,” said Valley View Elementary Principal Kim Johnston. “I think if we can prevent some of the bullying and the self-esteem issues that kids have earlier, then they’re more successful as they go through junior high and high school.”

In the squads, older students serve as mentors, helping younger students to learn how to relate and empathize.

“I just think it’s cool seeing that there’s help for little kids too,” said Clearfield High senior Hyrum Denney. “Seeing them come here, and knowing that they’ll possibly be coming to Clearfield, I mean it makes me happy knowing that we’re helping them too.”

And by getting these kids to take the lead in their schools, the hope is more kids can be safer, happier and better able to withstand the pressures of life.

“Basically, how we help people, is we go up to them, and we lead them to a professional, like our counselor, or principal, or some teacher,” said sixth grader Charity Farr. “Someone like that.”

There were about 30 different junior Hope Squads at Friday’s conference.

“I just think it’s cool that Hope Squad has spread not just from high schools, but to elementary schools and junior highs as well,” said Clearfield High senior Addison Larsen. “It just helps everyone to know about it.”

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