Sources of Strength, an initiative at Palo Alto and Gunn high schools, is organizing student-run campaigns in order for staff, students and parents to spread ideas of hope, health and strength.
The program is in its inaugural year at both Paly and Gunn and its objective is to spread stories of resilience and the overcoming of struggles, rather than sharing those of pain or trauma, according to Paly school psychologist Jonathan Frecceri. One major goal of the initiative is to replace any negative culture, such as bullying, suicide and substance abuse with the development of a more positive culture.
“We don’t talk about sadness, shock or trauma messaging, but rather hope, health and strength messaging,” Frecceri said. “We can start to change the way that we talk about past failure and the way we talk about disappointment and struggle, to talking about how we bounced back.”
According to the Source of Strength website, the initiative has spread to become a nationwide movement across the United States since its founding in a Native American reservation system in North Dakota in 1988 as a suicide prevention program. Sources of Strength has reduced the number of suicide attempts in other communities similar to that of Palo Alto, according to Frecceri.
“Sources of Strength has been implemented in communities like ours where we’ve had suicide contagion, and it’s been shown to build protective factors in those communities,” Frecceri said. “We live in a community here in Palo Alto where there is a certain culture of achievement. Success kind of looks one way. We have to change that narrative somehow and I think Sources of Strength is a good way for us to start that. It’s not about being silent but it is about sharing the hope, the health, and the strength that we’ve learned and used to come through hard times.”
Initially, staff nominated approximately 150 students to be part of the initiative’s core members, but the group is now comprised of 68 students, along with 25 mentors who are Paly staff members. Members underwent a training session in October to understand what it takes to be a peer leader and learn about the variety of sources of strength that people rely on.
“We asked teachers and staff across campus to send us a list of nominations of students in ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th grade that they thought were students who in their various social groups had a voice,” Frecceri said. “We didn’t say to send us a list of leaders or to send us a list of those traditional high-achieving students or popular students.”
Sources of Strength bases its core values on eight ideologies listed on a “wheel:” mental health, familial support, positivity from friends, mentorship, healthy activities, generosity, spirituality and medical assistance. Together, mentors will work with students on two overarching campaigns. While mentors facilitate progress and provide the students with materials, students are mostly in charge of conducting the project. One campaign seeks to identify and thank trusted adults on campus while the other is centered on gratitude. Sources of Strength students are divided into eight different groups with approximately eight students and three mentors who will focus on more specific subsets of the two main campaigns.
Some of the groups will specialize in campaigning through social media, audio-visual means, presentations or event coordinating, according to Frecceri. Students meet twice a month with their groups to help brainstorm, plan, execute and reflect on their campaigns.
“I’m the adviser for the audio-visual committee,” said Sharla May, math teacher and a Sources of Strength adviser. “They’re dealing with audio aspects of the campaign. Currently, the members are trying to publicize their campaign through InFocus, Paly Radio or even the MAC [Media Arts Center] screens.”
Paly students will witness many of these campaigns implemented on campus this month.
“The groups have been meeting since Oct. 12,” Frecceri said. “Now they’re in the phase of implementation and in the week following Thanksgiving, you’ll see a lot of these campaigns getting rolled out.”
Junior Zahra Muzaffar, a member of Sources of Strength, is one of six students who, along with the guidance of two mentors, has developed and launched a campaign this Monday. Her campaign is a mixture of both identifying trusted adults and sources of gratitude.
“My group did the ‘Have you been pinned?’ campaign,” Muzaffar said. “We started with 100 clothespins and wrote people messages. The idea was that they would keep their messages and pass it on to someone else. We also created a virtual board that anyone can add to.”
Sources of Strength member and junior Timothy Liu is working in another group on completing a school mural to spread messages of strength and gratitude.
“We’re looking to create a mural that will allow students to contribute to it and add their own flair and feel so that at the end, we have a school mural in a sense,” Liu said.
Frecceri stresses that Sources of Strength is not a club, but an initiative whose long-term goal is to is to implement a positive, long-lasting culture of support.
“My goal is that in a couple of years Paly will identify itself as a Sources of Strength school,” Frecceri said. “We all are responsible for coming around this. … It’s going to be Paly and Gunn, together, united, doing this as a community.”