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More Cape Cod high schools launching suicide prevention program 'Hope Squad'

Members of Falmouth High's Hope Squad stand in the front of the crowd at Sharing Kindness' Suicide Awareness Walk in May.
Courtesy Big Tree
Members of Falmouth High's Hope Squad stand in the front of the crowd at Sharing Kindness' Suicide Awareness Walk in May.

Hope Squad, a school-based suicide prevention program, is being adopted by several high schools on Cape Cod. Here's the transcript of a conversation between CAI's Morning Edition team (Host Patrick Flanary and Producer Brian Engles) about how Hope Squads are helping teens in the region. Listen to the full conversation above.

Patrick Flanary: A heads up to listeners. This next segment deals with preventing deaths by suicide in young people. The new school year is underway and more schools on Cape Cod are starting Hope Squads this fall. Hope Squad is a peer-to-peer suicide prevention program that’s in schools across the country. CAI Morning Edition Producer Brian Engles joins us to talk about Hope Squad and how it’s helping high-schoolers in the region. Hey, Brian.

Brian Engles: Hey, Patrick.

PF: So, what is Hope Squad? How does it work?

BE: Hope Squad is a school-based suicide prevention program. So, it’s a group of students who are trained to listen to kids in their school who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts. Then Hope Squad members share concerns with a trusted adult. This spring, I visited Falmouth High School to speak with a member of the Hope Squad there. Julia Roman was an officer with the group when it started last year, she’s since graduated Falmouth High. She says it’s important for students to have access to this kind of support system and the Squad has a clear goal:

Julia Roman: “Give effective help to students who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts. We’ve been trained to help them in certain ways, be a good listener and guide them to the help they need.”

PF: She mentions being trained there. What does that training involve for students who are part of the group?

BE: Part of it is learning how to look for warning signs or changes in behavior in students, but Roman says the training really focuses on listening to kids who are struggling.

Julia Roman: “What we’re learning about is how to listen effectively, how to ask what their thoughts are, and then how to talk an adult, and how to give someone the advice to go to a trusted adult.”

PF: So is it more likely that a student would turn to a friend as opposed to a parent or counselor?

BE: Yes. Half of students with suicidal ideation and who have a plan end up telling a peer about it. That’s according to data shared by Kim Mead-Walters. She’s a doctor in Orleans and a suicide loss survivor. She also cofounded Sharing Kindness. The nonprofit helps schools with suicide prevention programs. That includes paying for the training of Hope Squad advisors, those are the adults and counselors who supervise the group. This is Mead-Walters explaining why her group supports Hope Squad.  

Kim Mead-Walters: “If we can train our students, if we can educate them in what to look for, what to listen for, how to respond to a message from a peer that’s concerning, it’s a wonderful, wonderful form of suicide prevention.”

PF: Hope Squads are across the country. How did it get started locally?

BE: It got started on the Cape because of a suicide awareness documentary that screened at Falmouth High School last year. Hope Squads were featured in that film. So school administrators spoke with FHS Adjustment Counselor Katie Fauth about starting one. Fauth says she was game to be the Hope Squad Advisor.

Katie Fauth: “Yes, I want to do this! I want to lead this. This is amazing. We are the first school in Massachusetts to do this.”

BE: Falmouth ended up launching Hope Squad last fall, with more schools following their lead this school year.

PF: How do students become members?

BE: They’re actually nominated by their peers. Fauth – the Hope Squad advisor - says the teens who make up the crew are all kind-hearted, good listeners. I want to note, students don’t have to participate in the group if they choose not to. And even though these kids receive training, Fauth says their role is clear.

Katie Fauth: "We’re very careful to say, these kids on Hope Squad, they’re not counselors. We don’t expect them to be counselors. They’re just the eyes and ears, because they might see and hear more than adults do. And then they get the kid to a counselor or at least alert a counselor."

PF: Do we know if any Falmouth students have gone to Hope Squad when they were in crisis?

BE: Yes. Fauth says a student reached out to a Hope Squad member when they were at a point where they were considering taking their life. Roman, the student who was part of Hope Squad last year, said she was thankful the group was there for this student.

Julia Roman: "Thank goodness there hasn’t been a lot of cases, but there has been one. And it’s very special that a member of Hope Squad was able to help out that person."

PF: And now other schools on the Cape are launching Hope Squads too?

BE: That’s right. Barnstable High, Monomoy Regional, Nauset Regional and Cape Cod Regional Technical High have all recently had their advisors trained and will be launching Hope Squads this fall. That’s according to Mead-Walters from Sharing Kindness – who says they plan to start middle school Hope Squads next summer. This is Mead-Walters discussing some of the ways schools benefit from having Hope Squads.

Kim Mead-Walters: “The evidence shows Hope Squad schools have increased help-seeking behavior and a dramatic decrease in stigmatizing language, which makes school safer and more welcoming for all students.”

PF: Brian, thanks for your reporting on this.

BE: Thanks, Patrick.

BE: If you or anyone you know needs to talk to someone, call or text 9-8-8. That’s the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Brian Engles is an author, a Cape Cod local, and a producer for Morning Edition.
Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.