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Country Day Brings Sources of Strength to Student Body

Country Day Brings Sources of Strength to Student Body

Last year, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a special advisory about what he called an alarming increase in the mental health challenges facing American teenagers. To Combat this crisis and to fortify the wellbeing of all students, Country Day has implemented Sources of Strength, a national youth mental health promotion and suicide prevention wellness program for kindergarten through 12th grade. The mission of Sources of Strength is “to prevent adverse outcomes by increasing wellbeing, help-seeking, resiliency, healthy coping, and belonging.”

“Five years ago, we started looking for something to bring to our students that could help them improve healthy behaviors,” says Kathy Scheidler, psychologist in the Upper School.

So what makes Sources of Strength different than other mental health and suicide awareness programs? Instead of using shock-and-awe statistics, Sources of Strength uses a different route: teaching students to understand their feelings and normalize help-seeking behaviors. They do this by learning about the protective factors, or strengths, taught by the program - family support, positive friends, spirituality, healthy activities, mentors, mental health, physical health and generosity.

Sources of strength wheel.

“This program takes more of a proactive approach,” says Scheidler. “It focuses on preventative activities that can help students before they get into serious trouble. We want them to know the elements of help-seeking. The goal is for them to know who the trusted adults are and who they should go to when they notice one of their peers is struggling.”

And this certainly is a whole-school initiative.

The implementation process began during the 2022-23 school year with select Country Day staff and faculty members, who went through coach training. In the spring of 2023, Lower School classrooms began teaching the program’s K-6 curriculum. Students in fifth and sixth grade began learning their curriculum this past fall during their advisory periods. This past summer, 40 students selected to be peer mentors, in seventh through twelfth grade, along with 16 adult advisors, attended a full day of training. The training was led by 1N5, a nonprofit organization that specializes in implementing programs like Sources of Strength.

“It was important for us to find a program that was evidence-based, and this was one of the only ones that was,” says Nikki-Bishop Kallmeyer, psychologist in the Lower School.

First-grade teacher Jessica Beaudoin likes how the program not only gives the students a voice but also helps them understand other people. “Our school is already so open to what other people are feeling that this just enhances that. Some of the kids notice their peers being upset before the teachers notice it. They are trying to solve problems before they come to one of us. I’m just so impressed with the social maturity of the kids at this school.”

Choir instructor and fifth-grade advisor Greg Miller says, “It is so unique that we have an entire school that is working on this program. These kids are so good at so many things that I think it’s going to explode positively once all the kids figure it out.”

While the Sources of Strength curriculum is adult-led in kindergarten through sixth grade levels, the program is a little bit different for the seventh through twelfth graders. Sources of Strength uses the social network to make health coping contagious. Peer leaders work closely with adult advisors to engage in and promote the eight strengths through campaigns.

“We’re still figuring out our obstacles,” says Alexis Nordrum, psychologist in the Middle School. “But we try to meet every two weeks to get the word out about the program amongst the students. The goal will be to eventually have the program be completely peer-led with support from the adult advisors as necessary.”

During a breakout session for Source of Strength, Jack Monroe leads the disucssion.

Jack Monroe `25, one of the peer leaders, is excited about the potential impact the program can have on his classmates. “This is the first student leadership role I’ve taken on, so I wasn’t quite sure what it was going to be like, but I think it’s heading in a really good direction. It’s really important to have a program like this at our school; there’s a lot of good we can do here.”

Seventh grader Ece Karakus `29 agrees with Monroe about how a program like Sources of Strength can benefit Country Day students. “It’s important to know that there’s someone specific you can go to for help.”

Karakus is also applying the program’s lessons in positivity with her friends. “When my friends are upset about something, I try to help them look at things from a more positive point of view.”

Angela Barber-Joiner, director of belonging and wellbeing, believes Country Day is the perfect place for a program like Sources of Strength to thrive.

“We have an advantage here at Country Day to build on these important lessons grade by grade and improve their skills. We can develop strong leaders who have a healthy level of social-emotional learning. This will only help strengthen our community.”