The Sherman Independent School District is preparing to begin implementing portions of a new mental health awareness program.

The Texoma Health Foundation offered a grant to make a mental health and suicide awareness program available to Grayson County school districts through the Grant Halliburton Foundation. Denison ISD had previously accepted the grant to begin offering one of the programs at its schools next year and Sherman ISD is taking steps to implement the full Thrive program— which is the in-depth program containing several layers—in the coming school years.

Sherman ISD Coordinator for Counseling and Student Services Julie Hill said the district is working to start up one of the programs next school year with more to come down the road.

“We are in the early planning stages to launch a comprehensive mental health strategy,” Hill said. “Our goal is to change the culture of our school community as it relates to mental health.”

During a presentation with Denison ISD, Grant Halliburton Foundation Director of Outreach and Education explained in detail how the programs work.

Sanchez said the main goal is for students to understand their mindset matters. She said kids need to know they can control their outcomes.

Sanchez said a lot of kids have a misinformed view of depression. She said there are a lot of children struggling with depression who look like they have it all together. The program teaches kids the warning signs for depression and helps them spot a student thinking about suicide.

She said the student isn’t really wanting to end their life but to end the pain and they believe death is their only option. The program is about telling kids it is not an option.

She said the CDC no longer rates depression as the number one cause of suicide. She said it has gotten to be more spontaneous as children are not learning proper coping skills. That is what the Thrive program seeks to teach them.

Hill said the program will begin rolling out in small pieces starting next school year with the district planning for full implementation by the 2020-2021 school year.

Hill said the district is starting with Okay to Say which she said is the easiest phase to implement. She said the district hopes to begin starting up by the spring of next year with the Hope Squad.

“I think as a whole, speaking as a parent myself, you don’t ever want to believe your child is in so much pain they would cause harm to themselves,” Hill said. “Sometimes it happens. We want to be prepared moving forward so we can provide support for them if they are struggling with mental health issues.

The Hope Squad is a peer-to-peer suicide prevention program that allows students to received training to identify and support students who are struggling while giving them the resources to know what to look for to provide assistance during a time of crisis.

“It is important for peers to understand it is important to get help,” Sanchez said. “They need to hear it from their fellow peers. When an adult says it is important they blow it off. If they hear it from another student they are more receptive.”

She said it isn’t about making kids into therapists but helping them know how to get their friend help who needs it.

Hill said it takes a great deal of training to get the hope squad launched. It starts with finding an advisor on each campus to head up the program. She said the goal is to begin that portion by the spring of next year.

“Our goal is to change the culture of our school community as it relates to mental health,” Hill said. “In the fall we are going to increase awareness about mental health and all that encompasses. We can be more effective in how we support our students.”

The goal of Thrive is to bring all the programs the school is already doing together with partner programs to find the right fit for that district.

The steps of the program are uniting the entire community together with partners to know what programs are available in the area. Then the district will work with the foundation to develop a plan that will tie all the programs together. Each semester there would be a review process to measure how things are progressing which will move to the final step which is to improve upon the program with new ideas.

Sanchez said there will be measurable milestones to keep an eye on. It can take several years for the programs to begin to show results. She said the timeline is going to be different for every school.

“We are still collaborating with them (Grant Halliburton Foundation). We’re on their time frame,” Hill said. “They have a lot of different people and pieces involved. Nothing is finalized at this time, it takes a while to get the ball rolling. The long-term goal is to get into the full Thrive program.”

Sanchez said the foundation is looking forward to working with Sherman ISD.

“In order for Thrive to be successful it takes months of planning,” Sanchez said. “Changing the culture around mental, social and emotional health does not happen overnight and we want to be diligent in creating a sustainable plan for each campus. While we plan for Thrive to launch in Fall 2020. We will start to implement our mental health presentations in Sherman ISD schools. We are excited for the partnership and look forward to the continued collaboration.”