Rimrock middle and high school students mark the end of their year in a unique way - with a color run around campus. As you can imagine, the fun-filled afternoon is bright and cheerful, but the idea comes out of the very dark topic of teen suicide.
Five years ago, the state first introduced the Sources of Strength program to a few schools. It's a national evidence-based model. The focus is on fostering positivity, creating connections and building resiliency. It's based on eight protective factors that don't just apply to suicide prevention. The program aims to curb bullying, substance abuse and school violence. It starts by building strong relationships between teachers and students and then transitioning teenagers into peer leaders.
The goal of the curriculum is to promote open communication, something graduating senior Sierra Swanson needed.
"This year has been one of the hardest years of my life," Swanson said.
She used one of the keys of the program, a bond with a trusted adult, to keep her life on track. For Sierra, that trusted adult is her counselor Jamie Metcalf.
"She's never given up on me. She really is my source of strength because through everything and everybody coming in and out of my life, she's never left," Swanson said.
State leaders see a huge need to put more money into youth suicide prevention. Legislators are hoping to change the sobering fact that suicide is the second leading cause of death for Idaho teenagers. Rimrock was an early adopter of the Sources of Strength program and Metcalf says it works.
"So when you take events and base them around Sources of Strength core values you really are building those relationships where kids can make that connection and tell someone. It's not just, 'go talk to the counselor'. It's, 'I know I can talk to the counselor'," Metcalf said.
Instead of staying quiet and toughing it out, Sources of Strength teaches this next generation to speak out and ask for support. That's something Sierra says saved her during her darkest days and she now has a bit of advice for any doubters.
"If you come into a school that has Sources of Strength just don't think its stupid. Go into it open minded and open hearted and you will actually learn some things," she said.
Just last week, the Idaho Department of Education awarded the next round of grants to schools to implement Sources of Strength. Read below to find out if your child's school will take part.