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Lakota Schools pilot new teen suicide prevention program

It’s a deadly subject often devoid of optimism, but a new program at Lakota Schools is working to instill hope in combating teen suicides.

And the key role will be played by fellow teens.

When a new school year starts in August, Lakota will be one of more than 20 school districts in Southwest Ohio to pilot a national, peer-to-peer suicide prevention program for the 2018-2019 school year.

Both Lakota East and Lakota West high schools will create “Hope Squads,” which will consist of students especially trained to identify at-risk students, provide friendship and seek help from adults.

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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates for adolescent boys and girls have been steadily rising since 2007.

And the problem is especially dangerous for teen girls, according to the center’s data, which shows the suicide rate for girls ages 15-19 doubled from 2007 to 2015, when it reached its highest point in 40 years.

The suicide rate for boys ages 15-19 increased by 30 percent over the same time period.

“Hope Squad’s mentality is to put students at the center of the solution aligns perfectly with Lakota’s student-centered approach to everything we do,” said Lakota Superintendent Matt Miller. “Often times, students confide in one another more than the adult figures in their lives, which makes a program such as Hope Squad all the more effective. Every layer we can add to our safety and security plans is another layer of protection for our students.”

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According to Lakota officials, once a month during the coming school year, Hope Squad will provide program advisors with a detailed curriculum that guides education and training of their student representatives. The teen-centered program also builds in a data and evaluation plan that allows partner schools to monitor outcomes and adjust accordingly.

In schools where Hope Squads already exist, recent data analysis show more than 25 percent of all referrals to counselors have been from Hope Squad members. Of those referrals, 14 percent have been hospitalized for treatment.

Lakota East Principal Suzanna Davis welcomes the new approach.

“Part of reducing the negative impact of mental health illnesses is improving mental health education and reducing the stigma associated with it,” said Davis.

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Elgin Card, principal of Lakota West, said the Hope Squad approach recognizes “emotional distress is a normal part of being a teenager.”

“Our goal is to make the process of seeking help normal too — not to mention something they can access quickly and easily through the support of their peers,” said Card.

Dr. Greg Hudnall, a national champion for suicide prevention in schools and communities and Hope Squad founder, will facilitate the first Lakota staff and student meetings on April 16.

That same day Hudnall will also help host a Lakota informational meeting from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the auditorium at Lakota East High School at 6840 Lakota Lane in Liberty Twp.

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