Sources of Strength creating a culture shift among PdC high schoolers

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Color Run/Walk May 4 at La Riviere Park

By Correne Martin

Created as a prevention program for suicide, bullying and substance abuse, SOS—or Sources of Strength—is a culture shift agenda that’s gaining strength among the Prairie du Chien High School student population. It’s designed to harness the power of peer social networks to change unhealthy norms, increase help-seeking behaviors and encourage connections between peers and caring adults.

As part of its goal to promote community-wide hope, help and strength, SOS student leaders have planned the inaugural Sources of Strength Color Run/Walk for Saturday, May 4, at La Riviere Park in Prairie du Chien. Citizens of all ages are invited to participate in the 5K, which begins with registration at 7:15 a.m. and the race at 8 a.m. Register at the park as individuals, or receive a cost break as a family participating. 

“We want people to see our brochures with SOS and our color wheel logo and understand the different strength components SOS hits in ways that positively change individuals and communities,” said Adrienne Udelhoven, co-adviser and high school/Bluff View school counselor. “We want people to wonder what it is and ask questions.”

Sources of Strength is a first-year project at PdCHS that is happening, in part, thanks to a Department of Public Instruction school-based mental health grant. The school district is in the process of applying for a second-year grant for the program. 

More than 50 students coming from various influential circles at the high school make up SOS. They are guided by a small group of adult advisers who are teachers as well as members of the public.

The idea behind SOS is bringing a diverse group of students together who can positively impact other students, according to Udelhoven, who co-advises with Dean of Students Nick Haug. SOS’ vision is that many strengths are more powerful than one. Peer leaders direct the program by focusing on eight components, or campaigns, within a color wheel, including: family support, positive friends, mentors, healthy activities, generosity, spirituality (sense of something greater), medical access and mental health. 

“Our peer leaders are spreading hope, help and strength among each other and throughout the community. A big piece is connection; all the campaigns require connection,” she summarized. 

The high school initiated Sources of Strength at the beginning of the year with numerous influential students chosen by staff nomination. Those youth were then asked to thoughtfully nominate fellow students who possessed the characteristics SOS represents. In total, 72 students attended training in October. A half-dozen of those teen representatives subsequently put on a presentation for Prairie du Chien area business leaders.

“It was a phenomenal presentation,” Udelhoven said. “They explained ‘this is what [SOS] means to us’ and later sat and had lunch among those business leaders from our community. Then they shared, ‘if you are able to support this program, this is what you’d be supporting.’”

Monthly activities are entirely student planned and student led. The peers determine an idea, ask the adult advisers for consideration, and the adviser group merely seeks permission from administration or school board or they direct the students to find an alternative. 

One campaign Prairie du Chien’s SOS program implemented in December asked the student body to individually identify their personal trusted adults and write them on ornaments that were displayed on a giant paper Christmas tree. 

“I was extremely impressed that they really put a lot of thought behind it,” Udelhoven commended. 

The result of this project in particular was a chain effect, where, maybe one student chose their trusted adult because he was a good listener. Then, their peers saw that, possibly realizing someone who could also become a trusted adult for them.

Outcomes such as this are achievable since, Udelhoven said, “the number one most influential group for these kids are their peers.”

The local SOS chapter’s goal is to bring in a national trainer for the next two years, which costs $10,000. To reach that, they hope to secure the DPI grant again for next year and in future years if possible. Eventually, SOS would like to see a local person come in each year and train incoming students and teachers on these initiatives. 

“The ultimate objective is to, within a few years, see no negative language, no self-harming, no bullying, no substance abuse like we have,” she said. “It’s all about a sense of something bigger than themselves.”

Sources of Strength was developed in North Dakota in 1998 by founder Mark LoMurray. From 2000 to 2004, the program trained around 7,500 tens and young adults in North Dakota. According to SOS’ website (sourcesofstrength.org), the project showed very encouraging reductions of teen fatalities and reductions in 3 of 4 suicide markers. 

For more information, contact Udelhoven at udelhovad@pdc.k12.wi.us or by calling Prairie du Chien High School at 326-3700.

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