High school counselor Chelsie Smith guides a purposeful group of students here at New Town High School.
They’re part of a group called SOAR — Stand Up and Represent.
The idea behind the group is to create a peer-to-peer mentorship program — working to normalize difficult but real conversations on topics like suicide, loneliness, and drugs and alcohol.
“They come in and they talk about things that are important and relevant to them,” Smith said, “and they create videos with concepts that will speak to their peers and have an impact. We’re trying to have a systemic approach to this in order to change school climate.”
But changing the atmosphere and making an effort to do that, they’ve reached out in several different ways and asked their peers what they’re struggling with. And they’ve addressed that in videos. Let them know that they’re not alone, that they are here for support in whatever way they can help. And I think it’s amazing what they’ve done in a very short period of time. I couldn’t be more proud of this group.
The videos — and you can find them on their New Town High School Leadership Council YouTube channel — have allowed SOAR students to take ownership in the projects they’ve created including selecting topics, writing, editing and on-camera appearances.
“And so what we do is we take those topics and we sit there and brainstorm. And different kids throw in, like, this week, we should talk about drinking and driving. Or this event happened and we should probably address it. And so we made videos about it and kind of we did it in a comedy kind of way, but also got our message across at the end about the consequences,” Tierra Kinden said. “So that’s a little bit of what we do. And we do some activities also around the school just to let the kids know we’re here. We want you to come and talk to us because we’re here for you and we go through the same problems you do use of video.”
The videos have helped students open up, forging connections, trust and friendships and a better school environment.
“But it’s made me way more open and able to get on — not to sound corny — like a spiritual kind of level, to really relate to somebody, to let them know that, you know, you’re not alone because a lot of kids, they’re seeing me and they’re like, ‘Man, you’re so … I wish I was like you,’ because I’m top of the class and everything seems like everything’s okay,” Qwyntin Alcon said. “But, you know, everybody has problems. And it’s good to know that these videos and like what we’re doing is helping them realize that everybody’s the same and everybody has problems and we’re able to go to each other for help for each one of those problems.”
Superintendent Marc Bluestone says the school received a grant to help identify areas to improve. He says he knew they had to work to fill the voids with students who struggle.
“All 255 kids is what makes a school a great place. And they all have to work together. And so it’s really cool to have not just the highflyers group, but also some struggling kids who need some extra assistance from peer to peer mentoring and building those relationships and then also having our staff embracing it,” Bluestone said.
And what these changes and understanding that this is something that will make our district a better place for kids as a whole. And it fills that void of trying to address some of those additional at-risk needs that we have.
- This story was produced as part of a series spotlighting behavioral health programs in K-12 schools across North Dakota. Video was shot pre-pandemic, and before face masks and social distancing measures were implemented. If you have a story to tell about how your school is supporting students’ social and emotional needs, please contact ND United Director of Public Affairs Tom Gerhardt at firstname.lastname@example.org.