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Prioritizing student wellness, resilience

As parents, guardians, and as a community, we know that it takes a village to build healthy and resilient people. Teachers, coaches, pastors, neighbors, family, and friends can influence and shape us in many ways. As we enter this new academic year, we remember that schools have been a safe place for students across districts. While the landscape for learning looks different for many of our schools, social emotional wellness of students has remained a priority. The Chautauqua County Department of Mental Hygiene is committed to helping keep schools safe by introducing services and supports to districts. One of these is a peer lead curriculum, Sources of Strength.

Sources of Strength is an evidence based youth suicide prevention curriculum that builds resilience through strengthening protective factors that already exist in our lives. Teachers receive training to take on the role as adult advisors to students also receive training on how to be empowered to connect their friends to resources when they are struggling. By identifying trusted adults and student peers in the building, students are more likely to engage in help seeking behaviors to prevent crisis.

The Department of Mental Hygiene is proud to have four local school districts implementing the Sources of Strength curriculum. Of those, Frewsburg Central School District is entering the second year of curriculum implementation with all high school instructional staff within the district trained. Plans are in place to implement Sources of Strength in other districts in the near future.

Danielle Patti, Frewsburg Director of Curriculum & Instructional Services, explains, “Early on when faced with making decisions about instruction during these difficult times, our Superintendent, Mrs. O’Boyle, led us through a process in which we prioritized our goals to determine the direction our district would take when returning to school. Our administrative team with the help of our school counselors, psychologist, and social worker determined that the social and emotional safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff was our very top priority; above all else.”

Sources of Strength works to make positive changes to the culture within schools. Reinforcing that idea, Tricia Dallas, School Counselor at Frewsburg Central District, added, “With our current pandemic, now more than ever, the staff in our district understand the importance of providing our kids with the best support possible, and we are utilizing Sources of Strength as a catalyst to help keep a positive school climate during these difficult times.”

Through Sources of Strength, adults empower students to lead the change. “We understand the importance that student engagement plays in academic achievement and want to do what is best for our students to be healthy and well. The Sources of Strength curriculum at our middle and high school level promotes student connection with adults in the district. All of our teachers feel strongly that maintaining these relationships is critical as we return to a learning environment and in moving forward,” continued Patti.

The Department of Mental Hygiene is committed to comprehensive planning and development of services and supports that build resilience for all ages. Through partnerships with the Chautauqua Tapestry Expansion Initiative and the Suicide Prevention Alliance of Chautauqua County, help-seeking behaviors are strengthened to make positive changes to the culture within schools. Working towards upstream prevention, the local team is excited to introduce the Sources of Strength Elementary curriculum to schools this year. This curriculum engages younger students to strengthen emotional regulation and build positive coping skills. This collaborative and foundational work creates strong and resilient communities, schools, cultures and young people.

Christina Breen works as the Sources of Strength Coordinator and Lead Trainer funded through the Chautauqua Tapestry Expansion Initiative under the Chautauqua County Department of Mental Hygiene partnering with Family Service of the Chautauqua Region. To learn more about Sources of Strength or to find out how to get your school involved, email SourcesofStrengthCHQ@gmail.com.

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