Drawing on Sources of Strength
When it comes to safeguarding the student community, Valor’s mentor program, Sources of Strength, is implementing new strategies to empower students to create their own change.
At 7:15 am, soft morning sunlight streams in through the eastern windows. Over 50 students and adults sit in folding chairs arranged in a circle. They are all united as mentors in the Sources of Strength program, which is founded on the mission “to prevent suicide by increasing help-seeking behaviors and promoting connections between peers and caring adults.”
The attendees are attentive, quiet but not disengaged, and listen as Social-Emotional Services Coordinator Lindsey Ervin introduces the Sources of Strength theme for the month: belonging. An ice breaker and a video from Brene Brown on empathy start to rouse interaction as students and adults alike share some sources of strength qualities that help them feel a sense of belonging – things like vulnerability, trust, spirituality, and healthy activity.
Then, Spanish teacher David Milton, the day’s guest speaker, walks students through an exercise that helps them “listen to their listening”, or understand how to be a good listener. He poses questions like, “Where does your mind go when you’re listening to someone talk? Do you think of critiquing or fixing their problems? What happens if you let yourself listen without thinking about what you will say in response?” At the end of the exercise, he reminds students that “Vulnerability, when met with empathy, inspires a lot of trust.”
Rising to the Challenge
Lindsey Ervin finds that in a society inundated by technology and distractions, students have a stronger desire than ever for genuine connection. “Experts say that this is the most connected generation with the least amount of community around them. Kids aren’t getting any relief from tension and stress.”
These issues aren’t unique to Valor, and the community as a whole recognizes the need for change. Bible teacher Rebecka Sutton, an adult mentor with Sources of Strength, chose to get involved because she saw an opportunity to encourage student-led initiatives that address real-life struggles. In the process, she’s been impressed by their creativity, collaboration, and vulnerability.
She says, “I’m often surprised by the vulnerability of the peer mentors to recognize their own need for strength. This humility and self-awareness makes it possible for others to reach out and acknowledge their own needs. A culture of trustworthy vulnerability is a place where people can be authentic and mutually supportive. Our peer mentors are making Valor a better place.”
So what inspires high school students to rise before the sun on a school morning and gather to talk about emotional health and awareness?
As the meeting wrapped up, one student proposed an activity for the entire student body, where students would meet in the Upper Lobby for lunch and draw a random number that would dictate their seating assignment. Their hope is that together, by laying aside their preferences and personal agendas, students from all backgrounds can come together to find a place of belonging.