TITUSVILLE | Students at St. Teresa Catholic School in Titusville are learning to finds their strengths and foster a caring community. It all began three years ago when Religion teacher and social worker Yara Aldana started the Peace and Justice Club for a handful of seventh and eighth-graders. A year in, she learned about the Sources of Strength program. The two became one and now includes all students in those grades.
“The idea was for them to be peer leaders and be social role models,” explains Aldana. When she learned about Sources of Strength, a universal evidence-based prevention program for suicide, violence, bullying and substance abuse through empowerment, she thought the partnership with the Peace and Justice Club made complete sense. Noting the high rate of suicide in teens and an increased problem with bullying in schools and on social media, Aldana says she believes that is what Sources of Strength is uniquely suited to address. “So many times, part of what needs to happen is that things are brought to the forefront and discussed; that kids are made aware that it’s okay to bring these issues up. It says to them, as a school community, we value these issues and want you to talk about them. I think it will make a difference, especially over time.”
Banking on the belief that “many strengths are more powerful than one…” the program trains students and adults to teach and encourage individuals in their areas of strength and empower them to overcome difficulties. Training took place at St. Teresa right after the start of this school year. Now 25 students are trained and serving as peer leaders and mentors.
Students focus on different strengths ranging from positive friends and mental health to spirituality and mentorship. Aldana explained, “Each month, the trained students plan an activity and present it to the student body (pre-K through sixth grade) at their weekly assembly.” As an example, she cited the “positive friends” strength. Each morning, the students were given a challenge: Try to make five people smile today; open the door for three people. “We challenged our students to do things that would generate positive friendships.” For “physical activity” students walked the perimeter of the school together after Mass. Another month, students used leaves to create a “mentor tree” assisted by teachers.
“I feel like it initiated conversation, not only among the kids, but also in the classrooms… conversations about family, positive friends, mental health – all the things we need to look at to offer support when we’re feeling down or things are going tough for us.”
Madison, an eighth-grader in her second year of the program said, “Sources of Strength helps to bring the school closer and makes us all feel loved.”
“Our mission as Catholics is to imitate Jesus as a servant. He called us to serve others and that’s what this does,” Aldana said. ”It calls us to serve others by thinking of them; by encouraging our students to be on the lookout for others and see when they need help or an extra little boost in their day. It gave us a spirit of solidarity as we are called by the universal Church to do. And it really follows the Golden Rule – to treat others as you want to be treated.”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic September 25, 2019