Pillars of Hope

Mar 19, 2024

Pillars of Hope

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer

A Hope Squad student mentor team took center stage to share their experiences and the cries for help they hear from their peers. The Grant Halliburton Foundation centers its Thrive Education program on seven pillars, and one of those is the peer-to-peer “Hope Squads.”

Research has shown that when a young person is in crisis, they are more likely to talk to a peer than an adult. The student-led Hope Squads are trained eyes and ears at their schools where they learn to watch for at‐risk peers, provide friendships, identify warning signs, and seek help from adults.

One of those Hope Squads sat on a panel discussion at the Grant Halliburton Foundation’s “When Life Hands You Teenagers” conference.

“They expressed how they were getting cries for help, but they didn’t know what to do,” Amy Pool says. She is the Senior Thrive Education Manager for the Grant Halliburton Foundation, a Dallas-area nonprofit focused on youth and adolescent mental health and suicide prevention.

The president of the Denison, Texas Hope Squad, a teen boy, expressed what he loved most about being on the squad. Amy recalled the story he shared:

“‘When I go to the cafeteria, I look for somebody sitting by themself. And I say to my friends, who are football and basketball players, ‘Come on, let’s sit with him.’ I’ve met the coolest people that I would have never known otherwise.’”

Amy adds, “I think that makes our Hope Squads so loved and adored. They really care about their peers.”

Bridging All the Gaps

During her years in schools—progressing through being a teacher, program coordinator, building administrator, campus principal, and special education consultant—Amy saw kids transferred to special education too often because of misunderstandings in learning styles, differences in culture, and mental health issues. The students were then moved into special education for the remainder of their school years.

“When I was a young teacher, I had no concept of mental health issues,” Amy says. “That was not something we talked about. I soon learned to look out for the kids, but I still didn’t understand how important it was.”

Now working at the Grant Halliburton Foundation, Amy is witnessing teachers being trained to dig deeper and discover all the factors contributing to a student’s struggles.

One Denison ISD student said, “Being a youth sports coach at 18, mental health is very important to me. I want to pursue coaching and provide kids, students, and even adults with a shoulder to lean on. I want them to understand there are people in this world that love and care about them.”

The Seven Pillars

Working with strong research, best practices, and personal experiences, the Grant Halliburton Foundation created seven pillars for their Thrive Education program:

• Public awareness

• Student and adult education

• Peer-to-peer support (Hope Squads)

• Community-based supports

• Research

• Early screening and detection.

Thrive managers like Amy assist schools in identifying current activities, programs, curriculum, resources, and services that support mental health awareness and suicide prevention. The managers also conduct staff feedback surveys to gain perspective and potential needs of school staff as they address the concerns for students, families, and their own social-emotional wellness. Amy works to ensure families know where to find help and support.

“We’re working with big and little schools across Grayson and Fannin counties,” Amy says. “And because of the Texoma Health Foundation grant, we’re able to do Hope Squad within those counties at no cost to schools.”