Everything’s bigger in Texas. The food portions, pickup trucks, houses and even hope. Take it from the 1,156 students who showed up to the Arlington ISD Center for Visual and Performing Arts for the first Texas-sized Hope Squad Conference last week.
Students from 58 schools from 21 school districts across North Texas met to connect and learn from one another about suicide prevention and effective ways to break the stigma of mental health. Students participated in exercises centered around resilience and positive thinking. They also got to hear from a variety of speakers, including Miss Texas Mallory Brooke and the founder of Hope Squad, Greg Hudnall.
Think of Hope Squads as the eyes and ears of a school. Students are nominated and then trained to watch for at-risk kids, identify warning signs, seek help from adults and ultimately provide friendship to peers. The program began in Provo, Utah, after multiple suicides occurred, and Hudnall, a former principal, decided he would do everything he could to prevent another suicide.
“All the other programs we knew of were coming through the back door, but we wanted to come in through the front door with peer-to-peer intervention,” said Hudnall. “It’s a dream come true to see the kids walking around with so much passion and commitment to bring hope back to their schools. I’m super excited to be with the kids. It’s a day of blessings for me.”
The first Hope Squad was implemented at Timpview High School. It has been 18 years since the school lost a student to suicide.
Today, there are over 1,500 Hope Squads in 39 states, Canada, Ghana and South Korea, and more than 8,000 students have been referred for help.
“Hosting the conference aligns directly with our culture of care initiative in the district, and we’re honored to welcome these young, bright students to Arlington,” said Jodi Dunn, an elementary counselor specialist in the Arlington ISD guidance and counseling department. “Events like this give our team confidence that hope is growing despite what we may often hear on the news.”
A conference of this magnitude isn’t possible without the help of the community. The Tarrant Area Food Bank partnered with the district to feed the kids, and volunteers from all over the state and even Idaho were in attendance to serve the students. The Grant Halliburton Foundation and Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation were major sponsors of the event.
For more information on Hope Squad and how to get involved, visit their website. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also reach out to your school guidance counselor for support.