Local students continue kindness mission at SMS

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(Courtesy photo) Six of the nine students who made up the winning Design For Change team through their Washington Elementary Class last year will represent the United States at the global DFC conference in Spain in November. The group is continuing their mission this year at Sandpoint Middle School with the Sources of Strength program. From left, Gage Ramsay, Breckin Nevarez, Ayiana Prevost, Arika Alward, Sean Gallaher and Evan Dickinson. Team members not pictured, Kora Converse, Ezra Tomlinson, and Josh Read.

SANDPOINT — Sources of Strength is a nationally recognized suicide prevention program designed to spread hope, help and strength.

Last year, nine Washington Elementary sixth-graders began a teen suicide prevention campaign through Ann Dickinson's Design for Change elective after learning there were six suicides in the community in two years. For their project HOPE — Have Only Positive Expectation — the team set out to create an environment of hope among their peers. And through the Sources of Strength program at Sandpoint Middle School, the group plans to continue that mission.

"They are moving on to bigger and better things," Dickinson said.

But their Design for Change work and project HOPE is not done yet.

Each year, one Design for Change team is selected from each of about 50 countries around the world to attend the global "Be the Change" conference. Between 22-30 of those teams will be at the conference, Dickinson said. The Washington Elementary team, though all are now in middle school, was one of hundreds of groups from across the United States who submitted a Design for Change project. For their impressive work on suicide prevention, the group was chosen to represent the United States at the global conference in Spain next month.

After learning they were the chosen to represent the United States at the global conference, the group began to raise the money needed to make the trip. Five of the team members get an all-expense-paid trip to Spain through Design for Change, so the group is fundraising for a sixth teammate and chaperones to go as well. As of Tuesday, the group raised $17,150 of the $20,000 goal.

The Daily Bee caught up with five of the students Tuesday at the middle school — Evan Dickinson, Breckin Nevarez, Arika Alward, Ayiana Prevost and Gage Ramsay — although they were not too talkative at 7 a.m. The five students and teammate Sean Gallaher, who was not present for the meeting, will represent the team in Spain. Team members not going on the trip are Kora Converse, Ezra Tomlinson and Josh Read.

The group took on several tasks throughout their project, using a community support network, to make a difference by making others feel valued. They launched a YouTube channel that explores topics of resiliency and strength, created a "catching compliments" board at the school, became mentors to younger kids by spending one-on-one time with them, implemented school wide assemblies on hope and friendship, and implemented a "buddy bench" on the playground for anyone who was feeling sad or lonely during recess. The group also held two "random acts of kindness" challenges.

Breckin and Evan watched a movie called "Resilience," where they learned about toxic stress and empathy. After watching the movie, Breckin and Evan decided to go to the kindergartners at their school and read “Hey Little Ant” to teach the kids not to pick on those smaller than them and not to hurt others.

It was from videos like this that the students came up with their mottos, such as "give someone their 15 minutes," and "You are not born with resilience, you have to build it over time."

"You don't know what is going on in a person's life," Gage said. "They might be depressed for something you have no idea about. You might think it's one thing, but it's something totally different. That's kind of what we learned during the empathy stage."

"You don't know what they are going through," Ayiana said. "Just try to make them feel valued, because everybody else should feel valued, too."

Most of the Design for Change team are now in Kari Granier's leadership class at SMS, which Granier said is the driving force behind Sources of Strength. They have completed the Sources of Strength training and were assigned an eighth-grade mentor. Each student will also build a relationship with their assigned homeroom teacher throughout the entire year, and they will go to the same homeroom throughout the year and "teach and infuse" what they are doing, Granier said.

The eight strengths on the Sources of Strength wheel include: family support, mental health, positive friends, medical access, spirituality, generosity, healthy activity and mentors. Granier said the first one her class will focus on is positive friends. That will start in November, she said, and right now their task is to build the relationships in their homerooms.

Gage said he thought the most interesting Source of Strength was spirituality.

"I thought that was cool — take a little time, say a little prayer, do something to get your hopes up to continue on with the day," Gage said.

T.J. Clary, who teaches direct instruction language/study skills at SMS, said the HOPE group really stood out during the Sources of Strength training.

"Sources of Strength is kind of a general training, and then Gage would start talking about toxic stress," Clary said. "Seventh- and eighth-graders don't typically use that language, and not only do they not use that language, they are not able to explain that vocabulary. So every time something came up and somebody from this group started talking, I was just blown away."

He said the group is "truly" going to be the source of strength for other students because of their training and knowledge coming into middle school.

Dickinson said she was proud of the students in that they did not just learn the words — they understood them.

"That depth of knowledge, I think, is what the program really tries to do," Dickinson said.

For information and to donate for the group's trip to Spain, visit designforchange.us/pages/donate. The students' final video submission for their Design for Change project can be viewed on their donation page as well.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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