BY FREDA MIKLIN
When tragedy struck a few short weeks ago when two Arapahoe High School seniors took their own lives in one week, it shook the community to its core. Ironically, leaders at Littleton Public Schools (LPS) were just putting the finishing touches on the “Sources of Strength” (SOS) program it planned to introduce, which was designed, in large part, to prevent just such tragedies.
Nearly 500 students and parents showed up at South Fellowship Church at 6560 S. Broadway Oct. 29 to hear a presentation on the program, designed to instill, “Hope, resiliency and positive connections…to protect (youth when faced with) life’s challenges.”
The eight components of the SOS program, all methods to alleviate stress, are:
The program opened with a 15-minute video made by the principals of all three LPS high schools encouraging students to reach out and use the many resources offered by their schools any time they feel pressure they can’t handle, from academics or any other source.
Nate Thompson, LPS director of social, emotional and behavior services, told parents it is important that adults reinforce the value of failure as a learning tool. Then he told students it is important that they ask for help when they need it and accept it when it is offered and given. He went on to say that LPS staff have even started the SOS program in elementary school, but that peers play the biggest role, even at a young age.
Anna S. Mueller, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of comparative human development at the University of Chicago, spoke about her research on adolescent mental health. She delivered the uncomfortable, but unsurprising news that suicide is extremely difficult to predict, making preventing it very challenging. She talked about factors she discovered while investigating a specific area in the U.S. where a sizable number of suicides have occurred.
Mueller said that social values play a significant role and that narrow ideas about what constitutes success amplify young people’s concerns about failing to live up to those ideals. She listed the stigma of having mental health issues, including anxiety from struggling to achieve academically and athletically, as a contributor to teens’ stress levels. She added that asking for help can be seen as a failure to youth for whom high achievement is believed to be a requirement. “There is literature on how painful it is for youth to not meet the expectations of the adults in their lives,” she cautioned parents.
Mueller moved on to the difficult subject of dealing with death in the school community. She said that schools need to have a plan to deal with any death and that it is crucial that they are all treated exactly the same, no matter the circumstances under which they occurred. She went on, “Adults must empower youth to be a part of the solution.”
Scott LoMurray was introduced as the deputy director of the SOS program, founded in 1998 by his father Mark LoMurray. He explained that suicide prevention is really suicide intervention, which consists of building resiliency in individuals by developing healthy coping strategies and connectedness. He said SOS is not just about learning, it’s about behavior change, actively using the tools to relieve stress before it turns into hopelessness and despair.
Several LPS students ranging from ages 13 to 18 bravely shared their personal struggles with substance abuse, anxiety and depression. Each talked about the methods they’ve used to cope, from meditation to mentors. A wise high school sophomore observed, “At some point in our lives, we all feel a deep sadness.”
That is the time we hope we have taught our children to reach for the Sources of Strength in their lives.
Jon Widmier, LPS coordinator of social, emotional and behavioral services, closed the program with the words, “We want this conversation to change lives; change our schools, our communities, our government. Together we can face life’s challenges. Our struggles are what make us who we are. Your life matters.”
In the audience supporting their community by their presence were Arapahoe County Commissioner Kathleen Conti, Centennial Mayor Stephanie Piko, and Centennial City Council Representatives Kathy Turley, Carrie Penaloza, Tammy Maurer, Mike Sutherland and Marlo Alston.
2018 All Rights Reserved. Villager Publishing |