Sources of strength

MAYVILLE – What started as a pilot program at Chautauqua Lake Central School now has students looking out for each other’s physical and mental health.

Now in its second year, the district’s Sources of Strength program has participated in a number of events, and has raised the morale of students and staff at CLCS.

Sources of Strength was originally conceived in the late 1990s by Mark LoMurray in North Dakota. It was intended to provide suicide prevention services in schools, and to combat bullying. Now in partnership with the University of Rochester, the program was offered to Chautauqua Lake at the beginning of the 2011-12 academic year.

According to Steve Johnston, student council and administrative adviser, Chautauqua Lake is one of two districts in Chautauqua County participating in the program – Brocton being the other one – and the program has been successful to this point.

“The goal was to pick students from all different social groups within a school, and so we have a microcosm of our school within this group,” he said. “Some are athletic, some have a musical bend to them, some are academic and some are computer (savvy) – so it’s a very diverse group of kids. And now we’re focusing on trying to get the message out, as far as a group, that we all have tough times; and looking at what sort of support we can have for ourselves as a group, and also our friends to get us through tough times. We’re basically trying to improve the school climate.”

The group set out to improve its school climate by adapting and expanding upon the tenets of the program for use within a school setting. The group addresses hard times they face by referencing “the wheel” – a circular diagram displaying eight separate characteristics for healthy living, including: mental health, family support, positive friends, mentors, healthy activities, generosity, spirituality and medical access. Students then play to their strengths, applying themselves in the areas that they do well in, while also working in the areas that they could improve upon.

“The wheel gives everyone an opportunity to strengthen the things they’re weak in,” said Charity Ludwig, a junior. “One of mine is positive friends, so I’m always working on gaining more positive friends and influences. And, through my experience, it’s influenced other students to do the same thing.”

Students in the Sources of Strength group have participated in several activities intended to encourage their fellow students. The group hosted a pep rally to raise funds for Aili Makuch, a classmate who was diagnosed with cancer, and has most recently donated money and blankets to other classmates who are unable to attend school due to illness.

Currently, the program is focusing on mentoring for students of all ages. According to Ryan Smith, a social worker who is contracted with Chautauqua Lake to counsel students from kindergarten through sixth grade, the high school students have been doing one-on-one mentoring with elementary students.

“We’re looking at it from a very preventative point of view,” he said. “When you see the level of issues that (students can) have in high school, I think a lot of times it’s not so much that they fell through the cracks, it’s just that they’ve gotten worse and worse over time. Bad things in their lives have been created through (various) life stressors. If we can build the strength at an early level, with social skills and coping skills, they can look at the high schoolers as people they can work with and talk to about their life issues.”

David Applegarth is a tenth-grader who has been mentoring an elementary school student, but he said he has gotten plenty out of the program himself.

“What (Sources of Strength) has done for me is get me to go and talk to more people, and see how things are going around the school. It’s gotten me more positively motivated, and I’ve also found other teachers that I can talk to throughout the program,” said David.

According to Josh Liddell, Chautauqua Lake’s secondary school principal, the Sources of Strength program has greeted the Ripley Central School students that will be attending Chautauqua Lake next school year, and plans to help ease the transition process of switching schools for those students.

“At Chautauqua Lake, we have expanded the Sources of Strength program to assist in our goal of eliminating bullying and harassment,” Liddell said. “So far, it has been an excellent program, (promoting) students caring about students and working together to continue to improve our school environment.”