The Hope Squad at West Clermont Middle School is just one way Clermont County schools are working to prevent youth suicides, and making a difference.
“We’ve actually helped a lot more people than most of us expected we would,” said Kate Aicholtz, a Hope Squad student leader.
The Hope Squad is trained to spot signs of struggling students and to reach out and help, something Aicholtz admits can get emotional.
“It seems very overwhelming, but when you’re helping someone this much as in saving their lives, it doesn’t even matter,” she said.
Other Clermont County schools have suicide prevention programs, too, and the numbers indicate they’re working.
There were five youth suicides in the county in 2017, none in 2018 and none so far this year, according to data gathered by the Clermont County Mental Health and Recovery Board.
Now, Clermont County plans to spend an extra $20,000 - split among five school districts - to help pay for these programs.
“We are finding more and more that students are struggling,” said Victoria Bolig, counselor at West Clermont Middle School. “Students need help. Students are faced with things that they aren’t sure how to handle on their own.”
The Hope Squad helps connect students with professional help if they need it, but Aicholtz said some students just want to talk to their peers.
“It is a lot harder to talk to an adult than it would be to talk to someone your age who understands you better,” she said.
Besides the Hope Squad, West Clermont Schools have WEB -“Where Everyone Belongs” - and Link Crew. In those programs, student leaders help younger peers transition to middle and high school, support students to make them feel safe and welcome, and report any bullying they see.
Riley Hampton, a Link Crew leader at West Clermont High School, said the idea is to “create more of like a welcoming atmosphere for them and try to help them work through the obstacles and challenges they might face.”
The programs at West Clermont Middle School are having a positive impact on everyone, Bolig said.
“Even walking through the hallways, people are smiling, people are waving,” she said.
“They also are here to build a more positive culture that is accepting of all types of people so that everyone is supported with their mental health. We want everyone to be healthy.”
Clermont County is also giving money to the Milford, Williamsburg and Goshen school districts and to Miami Valley Christian Academy to fund similar programs at those schools.