Student leaders from 18 communities in the Lower Kuskokwim School District gathered in the Bethel Cultural Center on Tuesday to talk about a subject that isn’t usually the focus in a classroom: the students’ strengths.

Everyone was a little quiet at first — the students had flown into Bethel from all over a region of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta that is roughly the size of West Virginia.

But they started to open up when the instructor, Robyn Weiner, split them into groups with poster paper and markers and asked them to draw things that give them strength. A group from Kasigluk, a village to the northwest of Bethel, filled the poster paper with dance fans, boats, fishing nets, basketballs and berry picking.

The students were all from grades 6 through 12, and they were there because their communities had identified them as leaders capable of learning the lessons of a suicide prevention program called Sources of Strength. They will be responsible for bringing the lessons of the day home to their peers.

The program teaches students to identify the factors that make them resilient, and shows them how to create their own pathways to healing in times of stress or trauma. The program is in its third year in the district, and administrators say it addresses the hardest issues youth face with positivity.

The program’s aims are weighty, but the word suicide was not mentioned at all in the five-hour session. The material focuses instead on resilience and personal values. Students got to share the things that bring them joy and make them feel supported. They laughed, and even played games that had the whole room smiling and cheering. That joy was the program’s medicine, and the fact that it came from the students themselves was the point.

Read the full article about suicide prevention programs for suicide by Claire Stremple at The 74.