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Sources of Strength subject of discussion

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | September 20, 2022 1:08 AM

Robust conversation was had during a Coeur d'Alene school board workshop Monday evening regarding programming in the district’s elementary schools.

The main discussion of the workshop focused on Sources of Strength, which is already in place in Coeur d'Alene's middle and high schools as a suicide prevention program that uses the power of peer social networks to effect positive change in school culture.

Members of a curriculum committee that formed in July met several times to review the programming. The committee recently voted 5-1 in favor of recommending the board add Sources of Strength curriculum to the district's elementary schools.

"Right now, we have disparate elements in every single classroom, talking and doing what they want with respect to these types of issues because we don't have a playbook for them," committee member and Coeur d'Alene dad Jason Wood said. "While I initially had reservations, the overall consensus after the review was I would much rather have everybody operating from the same playbook, and we should have a playbook for these important issues."

Trustee Heather Tenbrink, who has students at the secondary level, asked how Sources of Strength would work in elementary schools.

"We do 17 sections of it a week," said Brianna Birdsall, who is a counselor at Winton Elementary School, where Sources of Strength was introduced for students in third through fifth grades last year.

"I would say the most powerful thing that the students get from these lessons is just fun," she said. "It's just collaborative, it's engaging, we play games and we have a lesson … The ability for kids to interact and collaborate with one another and learn teamwork and strategies and voice and choice and the ability to have fun has been really powerful."

The program is based on strength sources displayed in a colorful eight-wedge wheel:

• Mental health

• Family support

• Positive friends

• Mentors

• Healthy activities

• Generosity

• Spirituality

• Physical Health

It is facilitated by trained counselors. The school district has been offered the opportunity to use the elementary curriculum and train counselors in Sources of Strength without cost.

"We chose this program not because it was free, but because it was a good fit for our district and aligned with the middle school and high school, so students that are moving up there would have already heard the lessons, would have already been familiar with the wheel," district mental health specialist Keith Orchard said. "It's a resilience-based program. That's why we chose it."

Committee member Troy McCollum questioned how the program would be funded. Orchard said moving forward, the program would be fairly low-cost to continue.

Azure Wilson, a Woodland Middle School teacher and Sources of Strength coordinator, said for elementary programming, once the counselors receive training they're good to continue facilitating.

"That cost gets minutely smaller because now we're just buying snacks for kids so they can join and have fun with us, they can learn and they can collaborate," Wilson said. "For the elementary, it's a one-time training."

The Coeur d'Alene School District defines social emotional learning as "the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions."

According to sourcesofstrength.com, a need exists for a quality strength-based prevention curriculum at the elementary level.

"Much of what exists in this space includes solid social emotional learning content but an inadequate focus on mental health or proactive prevention for things like bullying, substance abuse, violence, and suicide," the website states. "Our elementary model continues our commitment to moving further upstream, increasing health and wellness, and decreasing negative downstream outcomes through empowering individuals and communities full of connection, belonging and resilience."

Erika Doud, who served on the curriculum committee to review Sources of Strength at the elementary level, said she has seen social emotional learning programming be detrimental to school districts where her children previously attended. She read from a prepared statement that the Sources of Strength content does not adequately meet standards of the community.

"It's controversial. It will create divide by implementing this," she read. "I believe there's an academic-focused health curriculum that meets state standards without creating controversy. Sources of Strength is not it."

Atlas Elementary and Sources of Strength coordinator Rebekah Comstock said the eight pieces of the Sources of Strength wheel are protective factors and preventative measures.

"It's building below the water line and getting up the creek rather than us trying to get where we have these moments of crisis, which we do swoop in, of course, but can we get ahead of it?" she said. "That's what this program does. It builds resiliency and hope for kids. Our kids that are lost don't have hope. They've lost it. That's why we're losing them. That's what we're trying to do, is build hope for them."

She said it's also about connection.

"It's recognizing when someone is hurting, and, 'How do I get them to someone who can help?'" Comstock said. "This is a beautiful program, and we as professionals will pull it off in a beautiful way because we just want to give our kids hope. And we have to because our society is not doing a good job at it."

The school district is accepting comments from the public that will be reviewed by school board members before their next regular meeting at 5 p.m. Oct. 3, when they are expected to take action on this matter. The district has already received about 60 comments from the public. Visit www.cdaschools.org to submit comments.

The board meets at Midtown Meeting Center, 1505 N. Fifth St., Coeur d'Alene.

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