Las Vegas (KSNV) — I'm in front of Greenspun Junior High School in Henderson, where one of the lessons today is to take care of your mental health.
In the school library, there are several dozen students in yellow T-shirts who are helping their fellow classmates stay mentally healthy.
“I helped this girl a while ago. I'm not gonna say her name, and ah, we talked for like two whole class periods, and I helped,” she told me.
8th grader Alex Sundstrom is a member of what's called the "Hope Squad," a student-driven effort to get kids looking after each other's mental health and, most importantly, head off the tragedy of teen suicide. By early 2021, CCSD reported 19 student suicides. News 3 has asked the district for updated numbers and will add them when they are provided.
“These crazy two years that we just had - just turned the world upside down,” says Tam Larner, a retired CCSD principal who is now a trainer for the program.
He tells me the isolation caused by the pandemic - when kids were learning at home - amplified some of the problems kids today deal with.
Enter Hope Squad.
“We train our squad members to know what to say and what not to say. What questions to ask, what not to ask, when they think a friend is struggling,” he says.
The program is privately funded. Friday’s event, held in the library, was designed to publicize Hope Squad and interest more local companies to pitch for the cost, which runs several thousand dollars per school. Hope Squad currently is at more than 20 CCSD campuses.
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Matt Harris' company is one of the funders.
“I'm a local kid grew up here in Las Vegas. I have four kids of my own. I've had mental health issues affect my extended family kind of significantly over the course of my entire life. And so I think there's no better goal for local businesses than organizations like Hope Squad,” Harris says.
These kids don't become mental health experts. But they're an added layer of help and gently guide their peers to professionals - school counselors.
You see, school these days is much different than when you and I were there.
“The biggest problem is social media,” says Alex. “ There are a lot of standards that a lot of kids can't meet, mainly body image.”
For a teenager, that's a lot of pressure, which is why Hope Squad helps let students know someone cares.
“So it's important for kids to help kids,” says Sundstrom.
The highlight of the event was a talk from acclaimed college basketball coach and now Las Vegas Aces’ President Nikki Fargas, who showed a video of some of her players openly talking about their mental health struggles.
“It’s important for our players our players to share their stories,” Fargas told me, adding, “ because we have a lot of our players who have gone through mental health and they want to make sure that the youth and the young boys and girls know that it’s OK not to be OK.”