For the past couple months, students at Chadron Middle School have been part of a new group to help their fellow classmates by providing an ear to listen, a helping hand to guide them and working to make the school a more positive place.
Teacher Jennifer Cattnach explained Principal Nick Dressl came to her and asked if she would be interested in starting the first-ever Hope Squad. “Being the Health teacher, and seeing the behaviors of kids and some of the kid’s struggles, plus just wanting to increase positivity in the middle school, I said ‘Heck yeah!’”
There are 31 students on the squad, all voted on by their peers, and there’s been some development of the group. “We’re just now kicking off our meetings together and our activities we’re going to do,” Cattnach said.
Among the projects were a door decorating contest last week with an anti-bullying theme, in recognition of October as Anti-Bullying Month.
As to the questionnaire, Cattnach said they were all anonymous and students were asked which three people in the middle school they felt comfortable with if struggling with things like thoughts of self-harm or suicide, or if they just needed someone to talk to. The group also has adult leaders, whom tallied up the votes and the top three girls and boys from each grade level made the first Hope Squad. There were ties in some grades, Cattnach noted, and both students were allowed to join.
For November’s activities, there hasn’t been a final decision but they are discussing distributing packages to remind people that there is support if they need it, member Carson Lang said. In December, member Eliana Uhing said, the students will introduce themselves as the Hope Squad. Cattnach said there will also be a “Hope Squad Week” with different activities designed to create a positive atmosphere at the school.
As far as being chosen by other students to be part of the inaugural Hope Squad, Uhing said it makes her feel good and that she can make a change in the school. There’s been some discussion as to the effect of the squad rippling through the building and elsewhere, she said, “and I feel it’s kind of cool to be the start of that ripple.”
“I think it’s a pretty cool thing I was one of the four boys in my grade to get picked,” Lang said. “I’m pretty proud of that.” Other members likened it to getting a golden ticket from Willy Wonka.
“I’m happy the people in my grade feel they can trust me to do this,” Sara Carrick said. “You need somebody to talk to besides your parents or teachers because sometimes you don’t want to share stuff with them.”
“I’m pretty excited about it,” Jadyn Tidyman said. “Ever since we did the questionnaire I really wanted to be in the group. I’m excited because I like helping people.”
They’ve all had personal friends come to them to talk already, but pointed out they haven’t been formally introduced to the rest of the school yet. They further noted they’ve been developing their response to people who feel in trouble or suicidal.
Cattnach, said the students understand they are something or a “middle man,” and their job is not to be a counselor. “They’re still kids, they’re still middle school and we don’t want that pressure on these guys,” she said. “As one of the kids said, they’re kind of ninjas. Their job is to stay with a person until a safe adult can be with them.”
While having eyes and ears out for students who need them is important, Cattnach said it’s not the only reason for the squad and just as important is making the school a positive place to be.
The squad will meet every two weeks, and one meeting per month is planned with parents as they are a big part of this effort as well and such meetings will keep them abreast of what the squad students are doing. In the month since the students were selected, Cattnach said, there’s been three situations where one of the Hope Squad adults has been contacted.
The squad is something that’s needed, Cattnach said. The Hope Squad is actually a national group created in Utah, and while the middle school is currently the only one with the program she’s hopeful it could go K-12 and possibly even to the college level.