HOPE Squad makes big impact on Okaloosa students, High schooler selected for National Council

On Wednesday, May 18, 2022, the Okaloosa County School District held a press conference at Choctawhatchee High School in Fort Walton Beach to discuss mental health and the HOPE Squad in the schools.

  • Additionally, Choctaw student Angelique Patterson has been chosen to be on the National HOPE Squad Council.
  • 36 students across the nation were chosen to be on this national council.
  • Only one in the state of Florida.

As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, Superintendent of Schools Marcus Chambers says the district will continue to look at demystifying, or taking away the stigma of, mental illness.

“We know over the last two years, that we have students that might be struggling with mental illness and even employees and families,” he said at the beginning of the press conference. “Everything that we can do as a school district to support our students, we think is absolutely vital and important.”

Superintendent Marcus Chambers (Okaloosa County School District)

There’s a component of mental health that the school district has talked about a lot lately and that’s suicide prevention and awareness. The OCSD has a program called HOPE Squad that was spearheaded by Peggy Brockman and supported financially by Eglin Federal Credit Union and IMPACT 100.

By the end of this year, every secondary school in Okaloosa County will have HOPE squad,” added Chambers. “Next year, every elementary school will have HOPE Squad as well.”

  • Chambers went onto say that “there’s nothing more important in a school district than keeping our students safe.”
  • “If we can’t keep our students safe, and have programs in place to do so, everything else pales in comparison.”

As for the HOPE Squad, Chambers says it has already saved lives this year across the county. Not only has the group been able to intervene at Choctaw, but in other schools across the district.

HOPE Squad’s impact at Choctaw

Principal Michelle Heck (Okaloosa County School District)

“This is really personal to Choctaw,” said Principal Michelle Heck. “I have seen the power of HOPE Squad in action.”

Heck says that when the school first implemented HOPE Squad and her students went through the training they needed, they began to flood the school with positive messages and have been visible throughout the school.

That visibility, and training, ultimately led to members of the HOPE Squad helping one of their peers.

“Unbeknownst to me, we had a student who was in crisis and shared some concerning thoughts with a friend of theirs,” said Heck, fighting back the tears. “That friend was not a HOPE Squad member but knew who our HOPE Squad members were and reached out and shared with the member the concerns they had for their friend.”

Heck says it was alarming and concerning, but that the HOPE Squad member knew exactly what to do, asked the right questions and then brought in one of the HOPE Squad Sponsors to intervene.

“No sooner did that happen, that HOPE Squad Sponsor came and said that the student was being taken care of,” added Heck. “This is exactly what this organization stands for and that is making sure our kids who are struggling have someone to talk to. So it is very personal here at Choctaw.”

Local leadership makes it to the national level

📸 Okaloosa County School District

The main reason for the press conference was to introduce Angelique Patterson, a Choctaw student selected to sit on the National Council for HOPE Squad.

  • 36 students across the nation were chosen to be on this national council.
  • Only one from the state of Florida.

Angelique is also a member of the Okaloosa County Youth Leadership Council, a Director of WBGI-TV- Choctaw’s in-house television production program, Junior Class President/Senior Class President-Elect, and a member of the National Honor Society, Link Crew, and Multicultural Club.

  • On top of that, she maintains a 4.1 weighted GPA and is a Dual Enrolled student.

As part of her being on the national council, she will not only participate in the meetings, but also plan and facilitate state and national leadership conferences on HOPE Squad.

“They will talk to political figures, not only in the state of Florida, but across the nation,” said Chambers. “Angelique is about to not only do something that’s beyond worthwhile in helping save lives, but she’s also about to take part in literal leadership in helping her as she continues to grow and go forward.”

Angelique told the audience that it was a great honor for her to be selected as part of the national council.

“It means everything to me because it’s about listening to your peers, and hearing what they have to say,” she said. “It’s stressful sometimes being a high schooler and the pressure that you’re under. You know that you have to succeed and sometimes you don’t know how you’re going to get there, but you have to make sure that it happens.”

  • “For me to be someone that my peers feel that they can come to, I can’t even explain how great that is for me and how that feels for me to be able to help them with anything that they need.”

Angelique says she would not have been able to do any of this without proper training from her teachers, going to the HOPE Squad meetings and her friends.

“As HOPE Squad members, it can be a lot to take on because it’s almost like you take on that person’s struggle because you want to listen to them and you want to be there and you’re always checking in on them,” she added. “And with that comes to the responsibility of having that same weight on you.”

Angelique says that the support system at Choctaw, along with the HOPE Squad, has had an extremely large impact on the lives of students at the school. She says she can’t wait to get involved at the national level and bring back new initiatives to her school.

“I would just say for anyone out there who is considering joining HOPE Squad, try to be a part of it, be a part of that change, and be a listener,” she added. “We all go through our own mental tasks and struggles at times, and we’re all human. We just want to make sure that we can work together together as a community.”

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