Sources of Strength program helps extend ROCK

The Oracle

by Samantha Donat:

Gunn is expanding the student initiated peer-counseling program  on campus, ROCK (Reach Out, Care, Know), with the implementation of  Sources of Strength, a nationwide program created by professors and doctors from the University of Rochester and Stanford University. It not only encourages student peer support, as ROCK does, but goes a step further by promoting student-teacher relationships as well. Working closely alongside ROCK, Sources of Strength’s main goal is to supply the necessary tools to prevent suicide, violence and substance abuse. The program hopes to empower both peer leaders and caring adults to utilize their connections with students to “maximize health and protection in the real world,” as stated in the program’s mission statement. Assistant Principal Tom Jacoubowsky is appreciative of Stanford professor Shashank Joshi’s involvement. “Joshi is a parent in the community, and it’s really a home-grown effort,” he said.

ROCK Advisor Paul Dunlap is certain that Sources of Strength will be extremely beneficial to Gunn’s culture.  ROCK has already laid the groundwork for strengthening peer relationships, but student-teacher counseling is not a resource typically used on campus.  Dunlap hopes that Sources of Strength will eventually help students feel that there is an adult on campus whom they can trust and talk with about any sort of problems they may be having. Along with this goal, ROCK co-president junior Helen Carefoot also hopes that the program will encourage a generally lower stress level among students, along with better stress management.

Sources of Strength first initiated the relationship with Gunn. According to Dunlap, Sources of Strength felt that the program would be able to see quicker results at Gunn than they might at other schools.  “Since we already had a foundation in peer counseling, [Sources of Strength had] fewer walls to break down,” Dunlap said.

Sources of Strength takes an alternative approach to the idea of relieving teenage stress. Carefoot, who has participated in the training, believes that Sources of Strength will be a much-welcomed reprieve from the countless surveys and lectures Gunn students have participated in.  “In the other programs, we usually just sat around and talked about our feelings, which was usually slow, repetitive and boring,” she said.  “But Sources of Strength is more dynamic, and has a higher-level of student learning and understanding.  You’re not just listening to why certain things are bad for your mental health.”

“…Sources of Strength is more dynamic, and has a higher-level of student learning and understanding.  You’re not just listening to why certain things are bad for your mental health.”

—Junior Helen Carefoot

One of the core concepts behind Sources of Strength’s past success is its seemingly “backward” approach to peer help: as opposed to telling teenagers how to feel in certain situations, they encourage a more stress-free state of mind.  To do so, the program highlights eight focal areas of teenage life: family support, positive friends, mentors, healthy activities, generosity, spirituality, medical access and mental health.  By encouraging a solid foundation within each of these areas, Sources of Strength facilitates an overall better attitude among teenagers, which leads to increased stability during inevitable times of stress.

In order to firmly implement the program within Gunn’s culture, a large group of student volunteers from ROCK have undergone training along with several Gunn staff members.  The trainings, which will continue throughout the year, will teach the volunteers not only how to properly encourage mental stability, but also how to increase their connectivity with students on campus, and how they can pass along their knowledge to others.

Science teacher Casey O’Connell is one of the staff members volunteering in the Sources of Strength program. O’Connell found the first student-staff training to be extremely promising.  “The Sources of Strength training brings to attention valuable resources and positive lifestyle choices,” O’Connell said.

To raise awareness for the program, ROCK will be holding a series of events both on and off campus in the coming months, ranging from movie nights to camping trips.  The events are chances for students to establish stronger connections with their peers.

Once the events begin, Dunlap hopes that knowledge of Sources of Strength will spread across campus.  “We’ve started with just a small group of students and staff, but we’re hoping to see rippling circles,” Dunlap said.  “As the volunteers do training for others, the circle expands to include more students on campus.”

O’Connell believes that Sources of Strength will be contagious.  “The Sources of Strength will hopefully break down barriers over time and reach those who are most vulnerable,” he said.  While at Gunn, the program will also be following a small group of students, tracking their progress via routine surveys and assessments.