story and photography by shelby alderman

During East’s first full week back to school in January, the East Hope Squad made sure that no students felt left in the cold.

The organization’s first Hope Week involved its members distributing hot chocolate to students on Main Street, handing out business cards which provided the students with the phone number for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and a fundraiser where students could send sunflowers to one another.

“Hope Week is really a time dedicated for this group to not only announce our presence but also just make people more aware of the power of positivity,” East Hope Squad Advisor and government and economics teacher Justin Dennis said. “It’s about doing things to uplift people.”

One of the things that Dennis did, in order to spread positivity for Hope Week, was set up a speaker outside of his classroom and play music between classes, hoping that the music might make a person’s day a bit brighter.

Each day of the week stood for a different positive quality and ultimately spelled out “H-O-P-E SQUAD.”

On day one of Hope Week, “helpfulness”   Hope Squad members wrote positive messages such as “you matter” and “be inspired” in sidewalk chalk outside of the front of the school. [ask around to see whose idea this was] and the back stairwell of the building was decorated with red and yellow streamers.

Day two, “optimism,” was the day the sunflowers which were sold before winter break were distributed to students throughout the school. The sunflower fundraiser was spearheaded by Junior and Hope Week Committee Vice President Ellie Leisten. “Originally, we planned to do candy grams. I think there were a couple of other groups that had mentioned wanting to do that. So we wanted to do something a little more original,” Said Leisten. “We thought sunflowers would probably be a good option because they’re bright, and yellow is kind of one of our colors that resemble happiness.”

On day three, “perseverance,” Extra Help classes across the school decorated their classroom doors as a part of a door decorating contest. The doors were intended to make the hallways more colorful and spread positivity.

Day four was “enthusiasm,” and students walking into the building were greeted by a fanfare of teachers, applauding them for their hard work.

Day five was “Squad Day,” and was the final day of Hope Week. Free hot chocolate was served to students on Main Street by several Hope Squad members with big smiles on their faces.

Senior and Hope Squad President Alyssa Longworth’s goal is that the Hope Squad will become a more prevalent part of school culture beyond her graduation.

“I hope that Hope Squads and Hope Week become more in the culture of Lakota,” Longworth said. “We just want people to get more excited about [Hope Week] . As each year comes, I want it to be bigger and better.”

West’s Hope Squad is also hosting a Hope Week in the week before spring break. The organizations run independently from one another but are branches of the same national organization focused on mental health and suicide prevention.

East Principal Suzanna Davis was pleased with the way that the first annual Hope Week turned out.

“Ultimately, we know Hope Squads in their purest form are suicide prevention organizations. But I think we very quickly realized through the training and the curriculum, that it’s much more than that.” Davis said. “We would much prefer to focus our efforts on the prevention portion of suicide prevention, and even trying to talk about mental health and kindness before we ever get to a conversation about self-harm and suicide.”

The Hope Squad’s main objective during Hope Week was to spread positivity rather than focusing on anything negative. January is cold and dreary, but the organization spread cheer across East.

Dennis is satisfied with how this Hope Week turned out and is looking forward to next year’s Hope Week already.

“You know, at this time of year people are tired,” Dennis said.  “It hits halfway through the year, they kind of see the end of the year, but it’s not tangible yet. So it’s just a way to make people feel better about themselves and also model behaviors that anyone can easily do themselves.”

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