Today’s students face many problems and pressures that did not exist just a few years ago. The stress of daily life can cause a child to become anxious or depressed—or, in the most extreme cases, even suicidal.
One way that Guadalupe School is reaching out to help students who may be struggling with these problems is through the school’s new HOPE Squad. The Squad members are chosen by their classmates. The students are asked, “If you were struggling with a problem and needed someone to talk to, which three of your classmates would you turn to?” The six Guadalupe Squad members are the students that the classmates named in the survey. The Squad breaks down this way: two members each from the 4th, 5th and 6th grades.
The HOPE Squad (HOPE stands for Hold On, Persuade and Empower) is a peer-to-peer training program that identifies students who are caring, and good listeners to be the eyes and ears of the school among their fellow students, to help identify anyone who may be struggling with depression, problems at home, or being bullied at school or online.
The Squad members are not expected to act as counselors or therapists, but rather, they are trained by the school’s Social Worker Megan Daybell and her staff to engage in “helping behaviors” when they see a fellow student who may be experiencing problems.
It may seem like too much to ask of a student as young as these HOPE Squad member to take on this kind of responsibility, but studies show that the young people who serve in these groups do not appear to feel increased stress or anxiety as a result of their service on the HOPE Squad. Instead, the studies show that they experience high “compassion satisfaction.”
Bullying is a problem for all young people. “Every school in the world has bullying going on,” said Daybell. “But,” she added, “there’s a difference between bullying and conflict.” Bullying is characterized by an unequal power relationship and by systematic and repeated attacks. It is repeated, aggressive and unwanted behavior toward the victim. And bullying isn’t just physical attacks: it can also take the form of verbal or relational behaviors.
Cyberbullying is a new threat that previous generations of school students did not face. In some ways cyberbullying is worse than other kinds because it doesn’t necessarily take place at school, or even in person. A student can be cyberbullied anytime 24/7, and in the privacy of their own bedroom. There’s no escape for the bullied child. Also, cyberbullying seems more random than other kinds of bullying, because the bullies have even less reason for the behavior. Most of them report that they are doing it “just for fun.”
The peer-to-peer training of the HOPE Squad can help with all of these types of bullying. as well as other problems facing today’s students. “We are teaching our students to be an upstander, not a bystander,” said Daybell. The Squad members are trained to interact with students who may seem isolated, and to offer support to fellow students who may be struggling with problems, by reinforcing the message that “You are not alone! You have friends and supporters!” The goal of the HOPE Squad is to build a real sense of community among the students at Guadalupe, making our school a safe and supportive environment for all our students.
You can read more about the Hope Squad program on the Hope4Utah website.