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Sources of Strength curriculum aims to build wellness and resilience
At North Crawford
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The Sources of Strength is a fun, engaging program designed to help students develop emotional resilience, and learn ways to talk about hard things. In this photo, taken at the middle school retreat held earlier this school year in Gays Mills, the fun, playful nature of the program is on full display.

NORTH CRAWFORD - The North Crawford School District has joined 14 other districts in the Driftless Area in implementing the innovative new Sources of Strength curriculum aimed at building social and emotional wellness, and increasing emotional resilience.

In addition to North Crawford, the districts that participated in the ‘I Belong. You Belong. We Belong.’ Sources of Strength regional retreat include Prairie du Chien, Viroqua, Riverdale, Richland, Ithaca, Highland, Cuba City and Cassville. This event was held earlier in the school year in Gays Mills.

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High school students from North Crawford, Prairie du Chien, Viroqua, Riverdale, Richland, Ithaca, Highland, Cuba City and Cassville participated in the ‘I Belong. You Belong. We Belong’ Sources of Strength regional retreat held in Gays Mills recently.

On the Sources of Strength website, the curriculum is described as “a best practice youth suicide prevention project designed to harness the power of peer social networks to change unhealthy norms and culture, ultimately preventing suicide, bullying, and substance abuse. This model strengthens multiple sources of support (protective factors) around young individuals so that when times get hard they have strengths to rely on.”

Concerning trends

In their 2021 Annual Report, the Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health, noted in their executive summary that “throughout 2021 we heard stories from parents, mental health professionals, and others of the emerging crisis in children’s mental health. The October 2021 declaration of a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health fit with what we were hearing anecdotally. Our office focused our efforts on… the mental health issues that were most prevalent before the pandemic – anxiety, depression, and lack of belonging.”

In the report, the office shared statewide data about increasing incidence of some key indicators that show concerning trends:

• Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) – 17 percent

• Adolescent Depression – 16 percent

• Children with emotional, behavioral or developmental conditions – 25 percent

• Feelings of sadness of hopelessness in high school students – 29 percent

• Teens considering suicide – 16 percent

• Suicide attempts – seven percent

• LGB teens considering suicide – 42 percent

• Young adults experiencing any mental illness – 29 percent

“The pandemic really resulted in opening a lot of people’s eyes to the mental health problems children and families are facing,” Source of Strength trainer Katrina Johnson said. “The Sources of Strength curriculum focuses on helping students develop greater emotional resilience by helping them to see that they can be agents of creating a culture that fosters more connectedness.”

Got the ball rolling

Johnson got the ball rolling in our local area four years ago when she applied for a one-year Department of Public Instruction school-based mental health grant. At that time, the Prairie du Chien School District was the only one interested in exploring the Sources of Strength curriculum. Since then, Johnson has secured multi-year grant funding, and has a total of 15 local school districts working with the curriculum.

“We started with Sources of Strength in the middle school and high school grades, with a peer-to-peer model,” Johnson explained. “This last school year, we expanded to a pilot in the elementary grades, which takes more of a coaching format, with counselors and teaching staff having an expanded role in the program.”

Johnson explained that the Sources of Strength curriculum is a research-based curriculum that focuses on a social-networking theory, and “puts the power of prevention” in the hands of peers. She said that when the program is implemented on a peer-to-peer basis, the kids learn more, and come out of the program equipped to be agents of cultural change in their schools.

Elementary students

Max Moderski is the elementary school counselor at the North Crawford School District. In the 2021-22 school year, Moderski incorporated the Sources of Strength curriculum into his work in teaching about social and emotional wellness with elementary students. He reports that the students have responded very well to the curriculum.

“Katrina Johnson had done the research that showed trends of increasing feelings of loneliness among students during the pandemic,” Moderski said. “What I’ve found through the pilot of the curriculum this year in the elementary is that it offers students a lens of hope, and helps them learn how to find help when they have big emotions and don’t know how to deal with them.”

Moderski says that the language the curriculum supplies to students makes the program “fun, easy and engaging.” He said that one of the key benefits is that it gives kids the language and skills needed to talk about things that are “hard to talk about.”

“After two years of navigating a global health pandemic, our students were feeling a sense of isolation and loneliness,” Moderski observed. “The curriculum provides a way to foster a sense of belonging in the school community for our students.”

Moderski reports that, contrary to the notion that a guidance counselor mainly sits in their office, and waits for students to come and visit him, his role is much more active. Moderski explained that the role of counselors in schools had changed a lot over the years, and is now a much more actively engaged, hands-on role. 

He says that he regularly offers classroom instruction for students in social/emotional learning, and goes out into the hallways and public areas to have lots of positive, casual interactions with students and staff.

“Our district has long used the Second Step curriculum as a way to promote social and emotional learning,” Moderski said. “What I found this year is that the Sources of Strength curriculum adds a valuable element to this teaching area, and I’ve received a lot of good feedback about it.”

Moderski piloted the curriculum this school year with students in grades 3-5, and to some extent with kids in grade six as well. He said that parental permission for their children to participate had been obtained, and that most had opted in.

“The program, implemented by middle school/high school guidance counselor Stephanie Colsch looks a little different than the program with the elementary students,” Moderski said. “In those higher grade levels, there is more student self-selection to participate.”

Moderski said that he and Stephanie Colsch had received training in the program, and would soon attend a second day of training. That second day of training will equip them to become trainers in the program themselves, thus saving the district money. Moderski said that quite a few teaching staff at North Crawford have expressed interest in receiving that training in order to increase their skills in helping students with this type of learning.