CHAPPELL, NE — Students supporting students. Creek Valley Superintendent Patrick Ningen says that’s the goal with the new Creek Valley Hope Squad.
"It's in the name Hope Squad," Ningen said. "When you're able to feel like when you come to a school, go online or at home, there's someone that you can reach out to that will help you if you need it."
The group is in its first year at the school district. The Hope Squad is made up of students who work with counselor Joe Kupper and other staff to help classmates that may be suffering from mental illness.
"The last thing that I ever want to happen in our school I think is for one of our kids to get hurt," Kupper said. "Whether that's by somebody else or by themselves."
Now when it comes to discussing issues related to mental health, trust is paramount. That's why Creek Valley made the decision to have students vote on which classmates would be added to the Hope Squad's roster.
"That's a really awesome part of the Hope Squad," Kupper said. "When I went through and shared the ballot sheets with the kids we talked about, you know, this isn't a popularity contest. If you were struggling with an issue in your life, who would you approach?"
After being selected, students go through training with Kupper on how to identify signs of mental illness and approach the subject with their classmates. He says they use a process call Question, Persuade and Refer, or QPR.
If students believe a classmate is struggling they are trained how to approach them and question them about what they may be going through. If the classmate confirms they are struggling with their mental health, the Hope Squad member then tries to persuade them to talk to Kupper or someone they trust about it.
If the classmate is not responsive and is still showing signs of struggling, the Hope Squad member then refers them to Kupper.
Creek Valley Superintendent Patrick Ningen says the group is already having a positive impact on the school.
"It actually has helped," Ningen said. "I think there have been at least three instances this year, since we've started the program, where it's been a benefit to our kids and helped them out of a situation that could have been much worse."
It couldn’t have come at a better time as school officials noticed higher levels of anxiety and depression as a result of the pandemic.
"I think with COVID, the mental health and wellbeing of students and staff, you know of everyone, has been taxed quite a bit," Ningen said. "I think the timing of it was important."
Kupper says they got the idea from other school districts in the area and he’s happy it’s been introduced at Creek Valley.
"It's been super positive for our school district," Kupper said. "We've had a lot of success stories already."