Dozens of members of Whitehall-Yearling High School's Hope Squad are putting into practice this year what they've learned about helping peers maintain their mental well-being.

Hope Week, held last week at the school, gave students a platform to raise awareness for mental health while spreading some good cheer and positive vibes throughout the student body.

Whitehall-Yearling junior Hailee Franklin, 16, is one of the Hope Squad members who took part in the special week.

Franklin said she was pleased to accept a nomination from other Whitehall-Yearling students to become a member of the Hope Squad.

"I'm honored and happy I was picked," she said. "I want to help break stigmas and let students know that feeling depressed or overwhelmed isn't a weakness ... that it is strength to face and overcome it."

Franklin and other Hope Squad members participated in numerous activities during Hope Week, including a door-decorating contest, the sharing of mental well-being resources and the delivery of "Hope Grams."

The latter saw students writing inspirational messages to their peers, which Hope Squad members sealed and delivered with a Life Savers candy.

"The idea of Hope Week was to make our Hope Squad even more visible and to let students know who we are, and that they can seek us out for help if they need someone to talk to," said Judy Sies, an English teacher at Whitehall-Yearling and one of four Hope Squad advisers.

Franklin recalled one such student she recently helped who was overwhelmed at home taking care of younger siblings.

"We talked about how it is important to take care of your family but to also take care of yourself," Franklin said.

This is the first year for the Hope Squad at Whitehall-Yearling.

Hope Squad members, after accepting nominations, completed a training camp.

The training included visiting high schools and middle schools with established Hope Squads and receiving professional instruction on recognizing signs of depression and suicide risk, Sies said.

"We learned the QPR method: question, persuade and refer," said Sies,

With the QPR method, a Hope Squad member first might question an at-risk student, then persuade him or her to seek help and, finally, refer the student for professional help if deemed necessary.

Whitehall's Hope Squad was possible through a $5,000 grant from the Whitehall Education Foundation and is modeled after a program of the Cincinnati-based organization Grant Us Hope.

The origins of the Hope Squad program date back to the early 2000s when the peer-based suicide-prevention initiative first appeared in Provo, Utah, said Lauren Taylor, a guidance counselor at Whitehall-Yearling.

Other central Ohio school districts, including Hilliard, also have created Hope Squads.

Whitehall-Yearling senior Autumn Walden, 17, used Hope Week to send a Hope Gram to her best friend, Kennedy Johnson, whom she met last year when the two performed together in a school musical.

"I feel like everyone should know they're appreciated," Walden said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

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