Students bring HOPE to Piner Middle School

Shepherd Martin is a student-athlete who joined HOPE Squad.

On any given day, Piner Middle School students are cramming for tests, texting friends, and obsessing over TikTok. However this school year, they’re still grappling with the pandemic, distance learning, and the day-to-day stresses of being in middle school. As schools across the country try to support students during this time, Piner is proactively implementing a new program, the HOPE Squad. HOPE is an acronym that stands for Hold On, Persuade, and Empower. The HOPE Squad program focuses on giving students a unique perspective and training to help fellow classmates struggling with anxiety, loneliness, and depression. 

Staff and students were greeted with candy and messages of hope during HOPE Week.

“This program utilizes students to promote mental healthiness,” explained HOPE Squad Sponsor Renee Cole. “We’re training these students to speak to depression, anxiety, and trauma in a practical way that lessens the separation between students dealing with mental stressors. Students talk to each other, so this program uses that peer structure in a positive and healthy way. By having a peer-led organization, who understand and normalize the need for mental support, you in essence create an atmosphere that helps lessen the stereotype of mental illness.”

This school year culminates the start of a new culture at Piner with the Hope Squad program. Students are nominated by classmates to join the program and commit to participating in a series of trainings that help them identify and help struggling peers in an effort to prevent youth suicide. The trainings are thought-provoking and provide members with the knowledge and tools needed to identify suicide-warning signs and how to seek help from adults when those warning signs are noticed.

Piner students from HOPE Squad pass out encouraging messages and candy.

To promote the existence of the HOPE Squad on the Piner campus, students celebrated HOPE Week in February. They also handed out small tokens to remind classmates and staff how important they are, and encouraged them to get the assistance they might need. 

Hunter Thompson is an eighth-grade student chosen to serve on HOPE Squad. So far, he’s enjoying being a part of the program and its impact on his overall well-being.

Each day there was a different campus theme for HOPE Week. Balloons represented what day was represented.

“I’m learning to be more empathetic in my new role on the squad,” said Thompson. “My family is familiar with mental health struggles, so they were very proud when they heard I made the squad. I think our school will benefit so much from having a HOPE Squad here. Now more than ever, our students need one another.”

In addition to  being a multi-sport student-athlete in the seventh grade, Shepherd Martin is making the most out of being a new HOPE Squad member.

“Since I joined the HOPE Squad, I find myself being more open to listening to teammates and friends,” explained Martin. “I’m learning how to be more considerate towards people, and it’s been a great experience. Students are more comfortable confiding in one another, and I think that being trained to help our friends and classmates is so necessary. I look forward to HOPE Squad when I get to high school too.”

Hunter Thompson passes out messages of hope with members.

The month of February kicked off a series of events for the newly formed student group. As an organization, the students recognized Suicide Awareness Day, and the squad wore purple for the ‘Do It For Daron’ initiative recognizing youth suicide prevention and mental health awareness. Throughout the month, the students also wore yellow to promote the courage students need to speak to a member or friend about their feelings, and the friend to persuade the student to get help. 

“HOPE Squad students are more confident talking to new students or students whom they may or may not have spoken to prior to their training,” said Cole. “The Squad has developed strong communication and relationships with each other, which results in supporting and encouraging each other. It’s vital to our mission at Piner”

Throughout the semester, Piner Hope Squad members will continue to give out bracelets that have the community crisis number on them and create events to stay connected to their peers.