The Strength Behind a Wheel

Vivian Berens, Staff Writer

Sources of Strength (SOS) is a program that Erie students have been actively taking part in since 2018. 

Through this program, kids are educated on how to harness the power of peer social networks to change unhealthy norms and culture that students struggle with. What sets it apart from other projects, is it’s goal of uniting every individual students strengths, and how kids can activate and mobilize them in ways that can make a positive impact on their peers and community. According to an Erie student and one of the Sources of Strengths oldest members, Julie Bremser, “We are trying to spread positivity and help our community. [We are working on] Trying to get activities in advisory to bring those classes together, [as well as] a positive atmosphere in our school.” 

The wheel Sources Of Strength is based on.

Any one who joins SOS is considered a Peer Leader, the intention behind it is they connect, all students at the school, (their peers) into feeling uplifted and positive. Molly Creek,  a counselor here at Erie and leader for the group says added, “(Currently) I’d say we have a strong core of about 30 but we’re looking to grow as many people that wanna show up.”

As well as ten to 15 staff members involved. The group is making a huge effort to expand as well, and is interested in having as many students from all over the school that are intrigued. “We also reach out to students, that we think would be a good fit. (Teachers and counselors do) but anyone is welcome. Our training is next Tuesday October 8, if anyone is interested. They can talk to any councilor and get that permission form, and then they will work throughout the year with the other students that were trained as well as teachers.”

As it is open to all students, SOS isn’t limited to Erie either, it is a large network that reaches out to so many kids from all over America. So far Mississippi, New Mexico, Nebraska, Tennessee, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Vermont are the only states that don’t offer the program. Meaning 41 out of the 50 states make the program accessible to students in schools. 

According to the NREPP, an online, easy to access database designed to promote mental health, treat substance abuse, and mental disorders found that SOS has been shown to increase positive youth-adult connections, increase in Peer Leader’s school engagement. They found that Peer Leaders in larger schools were four times more likely to refer a suicide suspect to an adult as well as an increase in positive outlooks on life, and acceptability of seeking help. 

SOS was developed by Mark LoMurray from North Dakota, in 1998 in collaboration with rural communities and Northern Plain tribes. From 2000 to 2004 they worked with the North Dakota Adolescent Suicide Precention Task Force, Mental Health America of North Dakota, and the North Dakota Department of Health to train 7,500 teens. The project was awarded with the National Public Health Practice Award from the American Association of Public Health in 2005 and in 2006 the program partnered with Peter Wyman, Ph.D, University of Rochester in New York and C. Hendricks Brown Ph.D, University of Miami to conduct a trial that studied 18 random schools across America. The results showed that adult supported Peer Leaders could have a large impact on the entire school by increasing positive perceptions of adult support for suicidal teens and the acceptability of seeking help. The study was published in 2010 by The American Journal of Public Health. That kickstarted the program to begin working with over 40 schools across America.

Two of Erie High School’s SOS members.

In 2009 SOS was listed on the National Best Practices Registry by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In 2011, they were given the golden standard of prevention programs in the U.S. when they were listed on SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices. 

SOS is always finding ways to expand and reach as many kids as possible. So far, they have begun to partner with schools and communities throughout Canada, as well as the potential of going international, expanding to countries like Uganda and Australia. The program is currently working with hundreds of middle schools, high schools, Universities, LGBTQ+ centers and organizations, cultural community centers, The YMCA, religious-groups, detention centers, and even the military.  Erie is very fortunate to be able to offer this program to anyone who may be in a time of need, or is just looking to get involved. 

Although, Erie hasn’t had much experience in the program, that doesn’t mean positive changes haven’t started to appear. Molly Creek, a counselor here at Erie and leader for the group says “I think it impacted me last year, training day was awesome just to be in a room with other students that maybe I didn’t know as well as other staff and really be in a positive environment as well as the students the students that are involved, they’re really passionate about making Erie a really inclusive school and are willing to do the work behind that so everyone feels included, and I think it’s really really impacted them. Moving forward we want it to be more of a school wide thing, so everyone at Erie High School knows what Sources of Strength is and the different parts of the wheel to pull from.”