​​​10.25.2019 - 3:53 PM - Kelly Hueckman

On Tuesday, October 8th, a group of students from grades 9-12 traveled to NTC in Phillips to have training in a new program being introduced to the halls of Prentice School. The program, Sources of Strength, is a peer leadership organization with a mission to prevent suicide and create relationships between caring peers and adults. Both Prentice and Phillips schools sent select students and staff to become part of Students of Strength. The training involved a series of exercises and activities to coach the attendees in recognizing personal strengths and developing healthy connections with those in need.

The beginning of the program consisted of a pre-training acting as a more extensive course reserved for staff of Prentice and Phillips schools. Here, they learned about the origins and logistics of Sources of Strength while also participating in some healthy competition. School Counselor, Jackie Franzoi, even beat former Prentice English teacher and current Phillips teacher, Anna Vollendorf, in a riveting game of Cups [VIDEO].  

Each class from grades 9-12 sent student nominees chosen by staff who were thought to be “persuasive” individuals from different groups within the school that are easy for peers to talk to and seek guidance from. “The energy when the students came was just awesome,” Franzoi commented. “Their participation added to the impact of the training.”

The idea of the training was not native to Prentice, though. During a meeting designed for school counselors in the county to share ideas and concerns, the middle school counselor from Chequamegon shared her experience with Sources of Strength.  After deciding the program would be useful last school year, high school counselors from Prentice, Phillips, and Chequamegon each applied for grants for Mental Health to pay for the $1,250 training.  

Throughout the day, students and staff found themselves participating in numerous activities including “Dance-Master,” poster making, and “Walking Cool.”  Though she didn’t know what to expect beforehand, Sources of Strength trainee Kaelyn Isaacson expressed her fondness for the teaching style. “I had a lot of fun,” she said. “I like how they incorporated the games to help us retain information better.” 

Though the day was generally fun and light, some serious topics were tackled including depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Trainees were asked to consider different sources of strengths found in their lives, from friends and families to going for runs or petting their dogs, and share these strengths with others. These “sources” were generally methods for dealing with anger, depression, or anxiety. Students found this exercise to deem helpful, and even expressed a campaign proposal for a school-wide project identifying individual student’s strengths and showing gratitude for them. Je’Ann Johnson, a sophomore that attended the training, explained that it was “very inspiring to recognize the strengths of not only myself, but of others."

Students at the NTC Sources of Strength training played many community-building games.
Students at the NTC Sources of Strength training played many community-building games.
The "Wheel of Strength"

A “Wheel of Strength” was emphasized throughout the day, which contained eight of the top responses from high school students when asked about positive aspects in their lives. These aspects included Family Support, Spirituality, Healthy Activities, Generosity, and more. Trainees learned that individuals each have a unique cluster of parts of the Wheel of Strength that they excel in or need to work on.  Amongst all of the self-reflection, students were then encouraged to share their thoughts on their strengths and weaknesses. The entire workshop even broke into small groups to converse about the specifics of each component of the wheel about how their lives were affected by them. Franzoi praised the students, commenting on how much information they were willing to share within the group and how “the things they had to say were really powerful.” 

Trainees were also informed about signs of depression and suicidal thoughts, how to recognize them, and what actions need to be taken in specific circumstances. “I’m glad they taught us to not be afraid of mental illness. It is a very important topic, so I think this program will benefit the school,” Isaacson explained. The Sources of Strength representative stressed the importance of building good observational skills to take note of questionable behaviors in others. Johnson said she learned to “acknowledge the warning signs and reach out.” Some of these behaviors can include destructive habits, a change in appetite, or isolation. Students and staff were informed that they should practice becoming aware of these signs and introduce positive experiences and people to their lives. 

So how can members of the community have a positive effect on the mental health and well-being of others? Sources of Strength emphasized encouraging those in need to take recognition in their own redeeming characteristics, especially from the  “Wheel of Strength.” Students should be mindful of the behaviors of their classmates and involve them in productive activities, helping others, and creating a positive environment.

Now that the training has ended, some may wonder how the Sources of Strength program will affect the school and the community, if at all. Franzoi states that she believes “it has the potential to be impactful as long as the student body is willing to let it be.” Students and staff members have organized meetings where upcoming campaigning and projects are under arrangement, which should soon be open to community involvement. Prentice High School students, teachers, and other faculty should keep an eye out for the new Sources of Strength outreach to support a great cause and spread a positive message throughout the community.