Agents of Social Change Emerging at Trailside

Middle school has its challenges.


It’s a time of emotional growth. A time when many students become more serious about academics as some start to enroll in high school-level courses. A time when their social environment can often become stressful. 


To help address problems kids face as they navigate their way around the middle school rollercoaster and head to high school, Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) has implemented Sources of Strength, a training program that brings peer leaders together in partnership with adult advisors.


Trailside Middle School is piloting the program, which kicked off earlier this year with the selection of about 80 seventh- and eighth-graders who are learning how to be a true source of strength for fellow students who may need a friend or trusted adult to turn to when they need support. In keeping with the national program’s guidelines, a diverse group of peer leaders who can positively impact a wide range of cliques within a school were selected by Trailside staff.


These Trailside youth leaders have been meeting regularly with a group of staff and teachers who act as advisors and guide students through a series of activities designed to foster a nurturing, no-judgment and supportive environment in every corner of Trailside. The program is still in the very early stages of implementation. So far, students have learned about the guiding principles of the program, as well as how to spread the word about this resource. They’ll also be learning more about how to work with classmates who need help to ensure that they are connecting with the appropriate trusted adult.


Recently, students gathered in the library to brainstorm on ways to inform others about Sources of Strength.


Eighth-grader Molly was working on icebreaker games to help other kids get to know each other better. She said she doesn’t have a hard time talking to new people, but recognizes that others might not be as outgoing. “Some kids feel that they don’t have anyone and they feel alone. This helps both kids who are in the program and kids who are not.”


Sofia is already gaining insights from Sources of Strength. “I think it’s cool to get a more diverse group and not just one category of people. We have different mindsets.”


Rachael Moore, who teaches social studies, has been impressed with the commitment and creativity that she’s seen so far among the peer leaders. “To see seventh- and eighth-graders who care so much about other students in the school makes me so happy.  I love watching them come up with different ideas and ways to share what they are learning with the rest of the Trailside community.”


Seventh-grade student Ashley feels it’s important to have a program like Sources of Strength in middle school because “there are a lot of different groups in middle school and if you don’t have a group it can be lonely. Knowing that there are a number of Sources of Strength youth leaders at Trailside may help a student feel more comfortable talking to a peer about something that’s bothering them.”


This was a sentiment shared by Krish who is in eighth grade. “Most students don’t like going to a teacher – they talk to their friends when they’re in trouble.” 


Krish added it’s been “amazing” to participate in Sources of Strength with others. He and other classmates have made posters and have written encouraging messages on Post-it’s to place on lockers.


To date, more than 5,000 youth leaders have participated in Sources of Strength from several states across the country. At Trailside, the 80 or so students who are part of the program are learning how to make a meaningful impact and imprint on their Wolfpack community by ensuring that classmates who are facing problems such as social isolation, bullying and more are connected to trusted adults who can intervene and help. 


“This is a program to make the community feel included and to prevent things from happening,” said Hana, a seventh-grader. “It’s nice for people to know they have someone to back them up. If you’re struggling or stressed, Sources of Strength can help you with that.”


This article was written by Trailside parent Nancy Gregory