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Sources of Strength at TMS

January 18, 2024

TALENT – About 25 Talent Middle School students circled up in the TMS library Wednesday afternoon for a quick game of Simon Says that included some nervous giggles and a few awkward missteps. 

To an outsider, it would have likely looked like a break from school. In reality, the students were breaking the ice, warming up for some serious business ahead.

The students – selected by teachers to represent a wide range across grade levels and peer groups – were there to learn from the experts at Sources of Strength how to lead a culture shift at TMS centered around hope, health and strength. Nationally recognized for its unique peer-led suicide prevention program, Sources of Strength utilizes a “strength-based and upstream approach to mental health promotion and prevention of adverse outcomes like suicide, violence, bullying, and substance misuse.”

Wednesday’s five-hour training session was led by a handful of Sources of Strength trainers, including counseling and behavioral health coordinator Diane Berry, who said that the middle school years are as good a time as any to introduce children to the program.

“They’re starting to kind of separate from adult figures and kind of reflect on identity – are you an athlete, are you not an athlete, are you an extrovert or an introvert?” Berry said. “Or, who do I belong to? Who are my people? So, we’re really, really oriented to ‘other’ and we want to belong, but we’re also, at this age, painfully, painfully self-conscious.”

That’s part of the reason why Wednesday’s session included plenty of fun activities and light conversations before getting into the heavier topics. “Strength posters” created by the students included activities such as kayaking and riding bikes, and pictures of dogs, stick-figure families and musical notes. 

Near the end of the session, the students broke into small groups and brainstormed campaign ideas – these ranged from the audio/visual variety to classroom presentations – that could help inspire a culture shift at TMS. The impact they hope to spread through the school had already made its way through the library by the end of the day.

“I feel like a lot of times we all get caught up in our own lives and, we're just wrapped around ourselves,” TMS eighth-grader Zepherya Noxon said, “and it would be really good for us to focus on the people around us more.”

TMS eighth-grader Kayden Zen McDonald-Eaton agreed.

“I’m going to try to tell my classmates everything I can about this, to try to educate them on what I was educated about,” he said. “I feel very grateful that I was given this knowledge and that I was selected for this. And I know it's going to help with my development as a teenager, and I'm really grateful for that.”

The students will meet twice a month or more as needed to plan and carry out their campaigns, and the group will also be partnering with the school’s community leadership class to broaden their reach.

Berry is hopeful that Wednesday’s positive vibes are just the beginning for TMS.

“We're really trying to kind of push toward actual connection and reframing things in a positive, hopeful way,” she said. “So we want them to become part of that and we want them to connect with others and kind of spread it and ripple it out and ultimately shape cultures.”