By Joan Robinson, MSW, LYFS Board Member
BEGINNINGS Last fall, Lexington Youth and Family Services (LYFS) committed to hosting and funding Sources of Strength (SOS), a program designed to build self-confidence, define one’s own strengths, and know when and where to seek help. Seven high school students who are members of LYFS Youth Advisory Board, were asked to identify diverse groups and leaders at LHS. They then invited 46 LHS students and 13 adults to attend a daylong training event. In November of last year, this mix of students and adults spent a powerful day learning how to help others and more consciously use and further develop their own Sources of Strength. This prevention program with proven results increases teens’ connections with adults, builds resilience, and develops protective factors called Sources of Strength for navigating adolescence and life.
MISSION AND METHODS The primary stance of SOS is positive, focusing on resiliency rather than trauma. Historically communities come together after a tragedy, while SOS hopes to encourage the LHS and Lexington community to come together to prevent tragedy. When students feel there is a supportive environment–a safety net–they are less likely to feel alienated.
Consequently, they are less likely to get involved in self-destructive behaviors, and more likely to ask for help with their feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress.
As the year has progressed the SOS peer leaders, with the guidance of LYFS director Erin Deery, have developed a number of activities aimed at improving connections between students and with trusted adults. Some activities have been directed towards encouraging students to recognize and define their own Sources of Strength. They may feel more comfortable to reach out to family, friends, a trusted coach, minister, teacher, the school nurse, etc.
Any peer leader program must have adults talking with students: the students know what is going on, and the adults have experience with the world at large. The hope is that both the students and the adults will “spread the word” about the importance of talking with, not at, each other to the community of Lexington. This process is designed to remind students that they are not alone, and to destigmatize asking for help.
LEXINGTON SOS VISION With the committed and creative leadership of LYFS Adult and Youth Board members, together with the energy and dedication of the developing peer-to-peer social network, it seems possible to positively change Lexington youth norms and culture. This collaborative effort is supported by the schools, town, and many community groups and, with continued support, it could become a comprehensive wellness program impacting many people and touching every corner of our community.
As the LHS 2015-21016 school year comes to a close we asked two SOS peer leaders have crafted descriptions of two SOS activities: The Teacher Appreciation Progect and The Compliment Project, they carried out to to improve the LHS community environment.
THE TEACHER APPRECIATION PROJECT
Approachable teacher mentors are key for a healthy high school culture.
By JULIE KAN
LHS Student and Peer Leader
A core part of students’ lives is mentors — adults or older individuals in whom students put their trust. Whether it be a teacher, a parent or guardian, a sibling, or a guidance counselor, a mentor is an important Source of Strength for many. In times where guidance is needed, students will often turn to an adult for advice.
Ideally, the school environment should be a place where adults are encouraged to help students with their lives, where students feel completely comfortable turning to any adult for support—a place where, no matter where you look, there is always someone smiling, ready to hear what you have to say. Lexington High School is a community in which individuals can find the best help they need if they ask for it. However, many students are unable to find guidance because they are simply unaware of where to go for help.
Inspired by a project originally created at MIT, the Teacher Appreciation Project was Sources of Strength’s way to recognize teachers for being outstanding mentors. Each student Peer Leader nominated one teacher he or she felt was a person who was not only a role model but a trusted adult who students would be able to talk to if they ever needed someone. The 45 nominated teachers selected by the Peer Leaders each received a yellow wristband that read: “Tell me about your day,” signifying that they were approachable. The nominated teachers did not hesitate to wear their wristbands. In the Arts and Humanities lounge, teachers who received the bright yellow bands proudly waved their arms in the air, joyfully exclaiming, “Ooh, I got one of these!”
In an interview with English teacher Mr. Olivier-Mason, he explained how he felt honored to receive one of the yellow bands. He thought the bracelets helped to remind people of overcoming the “professional relationship” between teacher and student — that this can and should be more of a “human relationship.” He continued on to say that even if students don’t need to approach teachers about something, “There is comfort in knowing that if they did want to, people are there.”
At the end of the project day, the nominated teachers were told to gather outside the building for a group photo. Teachers walked out into the sunny school courtyard, looking confused about where to go. Amidst the afterschool buzz in the Quad, student peer leader Bill Gao directed all the teachers to one area as other students bustled around. The teachers smiled and laughed, some holding up their wrists to flash their yellow bracelets at the camera. Even Principal Laura Lasa, left a meeting to join in for the photo.
The purpose of the Teacher Appreciation project was to commend teachers for being trustworthy adults who are making a difference in students’ lives. This appreciation is meant to encourage nominated teachers to continue to be supportive, to celebrate positivity in the classroom and to inspire other teachers to mentor their students as well.
LHS, Sources of Strength Peer Leaders used this event to advocate for strong, healthy relationships between students and teachers. The next step is to familiarize more students with the bracelets so that students can actually feel comfortable approaching a teacher for help, and have the opportunity to form a special bond with a trusted adult.
THE COMPLIMENT CHALLENGE
Creating a more positive and communal environment at lhs is one of the cornerstones of sources of strength.
By SHIRA GARBIS
LHS Student and SOS Peer Leader
One of the goals of Sources of Strength is to create a more positive and communal environment at LHS and SOS decided to create a one-day project to do just that.
In early March each member of SOS came to school with a sheet of paper and a simple task. The sheet read, “compliment someone in your next class who you wouldn’t normally talk to.” Each member of SOS went to their first class of the day, gave someone a compliment and passed on the sheet. The idea was that the person who received the compliment would then go on to compliment someone in their next class and hopefully start a chain of positivity.
Although this project was non-tangible and we couldn’t measure how much of a success it was, we hoped to have done a small part in creating a more positive and supportive environment throughout our school. In the future, SOS hopes to reach out to not only students but also other adult members of the community and challenge everyone to be someone’s source of strength.
Lexington Youth and Family Services Sponsors Sources Of Strength
and continues to offer free and confidential counseling
LYFS is a safe and confidential place to talk and get support. If you or someone you know is having a hard time – feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed; using/abusing drugs and alcohol; having trouble at home; having suicidal thoughts, come in and talk to us! We will listen and can help.
LYFS is located on the side of First Parish Church on the Lexington Battle Green. Open every Friday from 3 pm to 6 pm (September – June) or by appointment. We have a private entrance, office and waiting area, and offer confidential therapy to teens free of cost!
How is LYFS funded? LYFS receives funds from private contributors in the community and grants from the Foundation for MetroWest and CHNA 15. It is a 501(3)(c) tax deductible organization.
INTERESTED IN CONTRIBUTING?
Make checks out and mail to:`Lexington Youth and Family Services
c/o First Parish Church / 7 Harrington Road / Lexington, MA 02421
For questions please email our Treasurer: Bill Blout,at BBlout@LYFSInc.org.
DONATE ONLINE: http://www.lyfsinc.org/donate.html
LYFS is located at First Parish Church(private entrance on right side of church), 7 Harrington Road, Lexington, MA
Call or Text: 781-862-0330
Director/Clinician: Erin M. Deery, LICSW