SHERIDAN — What happens at Sources, stays at Sources — except for the core messaging, Sheridan High School psychologist Tom Schnatterbeck said.
For students who attended the Sources of Strength student retreat at Eatons’ Ranch Saturday, adult advisors sought to provide a safe space for students to share personal details, build relationships and prepare campaigns to share with their schools in the coming months.
Rita Xia, 16, is a foreign exchange student from China and student at Tongue River High School. She was invited into SOS this year during her exchange. Xia is interested in meeting new people and learn more about mental health through the program, she said.
When Xia is going through a difficult time, understanding the SOS wheel has helped provide some energy to move forward and help herself, she said. Xia said she hopes to involve more students and bring effective tools to campus for students facing challenges in their lives.
The Sources of Strength wheel provides eight protective factors: positive friends, mentors, healthy activities, spirituality, medical access, generosity, mental health and family support.
Jane Pendergast, 15, is also a TRHS student. She was invited into SOS her freshman year and became involved because she wants to help other students. Learning about the eight sources of strength has helped her approach people differently who may be struggling — to help them identify what resources could support them during a difficult time.
“I’ve always wanted to help people and I thought I could do that with Sources of Strength,” Pendergast said.
Positive friends and family are two sections of the wheel that are particularly strong in Pendergast’s life, she said. She has improved her relationships with family and has chosen more supportive friends since she became involved with SOS.
Xia said engaging in healthy activities is a source of strength she often connects with to feel good and stay active — through cross country, soccer and listening to music.
Most peer leaders can identify at least two or three strengths from the SOS wheel that are present in their own lives, but many students are unaware of what strengths are there to tap into on a regular basis, Michele Fritz, SOS adult advisor and social work intern, said. It’s important to recognize those strengths before a student is facing a crisis situation, she said. Still, there are some sources of strength lacking for students at every school, Pendergast said.
“There are always those people who you can help more,” she said. “But I think for the most part, because our school is so small, everyone at least has one person because we’re like a close family.”
Fritz said she is encouraged by the peer leaders at TRHS this year. The leaders help students recognize their individual strengths and build resilience through protective factors, she said.
This group of students can promote those strengths and protective factors through school-wide campaigns and relationships, she said. As peer leaders and adult advisors build confidence in their ability to support students, Fritz said she believes she will start to see real change at the schools.
While SOS has been active at TRHS for many years, the program hasn’t had the opportunity or funding to grow to its full potential with the peer leader training until recently, Fritz said. The Sheridan County initiative to grow SOS brought the peer leader training to TRHS Nov. 5.
“I think that they all will be able to identify the same stresses in their schools but maybe come up with some more opportunities to work together in campaign initiatives,” Fritz said. “Any time you get more people together from diverse backgrounds, you get to share more ideas and you get to collaborate and it’s just a good opportunity for them to build relationships outside of their school and take that community initiative to the next step.”