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Teck John Baker Youth Leaders Program

Summary 
  • Need: The teen suicide rate in rural Northwest Arctic Borough, Alaska, was 7 times higher than the statewide teen suicide rate.
  • Intervention: The Teck John Baker Youth Leaders Program trains student leaders to effectively give support to struggling peers and appropriately deal with social issues.
  • Results: The number of teen suicides in the Northwest Arctic Borough decreased from 8 in 2008 to 5 in 2009 (when the program first began) and has successfully dropped and remained at zero every year since.
Description

The Teck John Baker Youth Leaders Program is a student leadership training and suicide prevention program that incorporates the Alaska Native Inupiaq culture into a unique curriculum based on the Foundation for Healthy Generations Natural Helpers program.

This program began in response to the high rate of student suicide in rural Northwest Arctic Borough, Alaska. The teen suicide rate in this area was 7 times higher than the statewide teen suicide rate. Furthermore, Alaska has a long-standing battle with suicide and has the highest overall rate of suicide in the country.

The Teck John Baker Youth Leaders Program trains student leaders to effectively give support to struggling peers and appropriately deal with social issues. This program was developed with the focus of equipping student leaders with tools and resources, as struggling peers usually confide in and seek help from their friends first when they encounter problems.

The primary goal of this program is to train students to be leaders, which naturally includes the health and well-being of their peers. This extends to reducing school bullying, helping classmates who are struggling with harmful relationships, and interventions for teens battling substance abuse. Specific training is given to the youth leaders to provide comfort and seek adult aid for students having suicidal thoughts or suicidal ideation.

Funding for this program is provided by a private donation from Teck Corporation.

Services offered

Each year, the Teck John Baker Youth Leaders Program selects middle and high school students from all 11 villages in the rural school district who stand out among their peers as trusted friends in a wide variety of social and friend groups. These selected students are the true influencers of the social subgroups in schools and villages.

Once the year's youth leaders are identified, they receive their first leadership training in the rural hub of Kotzebue. Each student then receives additional leadership training in his/her own village. Then youth leaders come up with their own unique way to teach what they have learned, and 3 youth leaders are chosen to travel to the next village and help with the training process. Youth leaders return from training with the responsibility to:

  • Support their peers
  • Use a behavioral intervention with elementary and middle school students who commit minor offenses
  • Share knowledge with their classmates about substance abuse, violence, bullying, trauma, adverse childhood experiences, and suicide
  • Plan positive school and village events, such as organizing trash pickups in the community or hosting basketball tournaments

Additionally, 2 students from each school location are selected to be team captains by the other youth leaders from their school. Team captains receive further training in the following areas:

  • Native and western leadership principles
  • Group dynamics
  • Other relevant leadership skills, such as interpersonal communication

These particular students are included in the student policy development and reviewing process by school district administration.

School employees advise the Teck John Baker Youth Leaders Program teams throughout the year. Together, they focus on:

  • Implementing health promotion and prevention activities that promote self-efficacy and positive identity development
  • Encouraging positive cultural and social identities
  • Having the knowledge, abilities, and authority to positively impact each school and community
  • Purposefully linking the students to adult mentors as a source of support and guidance

In addition to retreats, these students also undergo training from outside sources such as:

The student leaders are responsible for hosting cultural events within their community. The purpose is to help them and their peers attach themselves to their cultural heritage, which has been thought to reduce suicide ideation.

Results

The number of teen suicides in the Northwest Arctic Borough decreased from 8 in 2008 to 5 in 2009 (when the program first began) and has successfully dropped and remained at zero every year since. As of 2015, over 125 students have served as social captains.


For more information on Teck John Baker Youth Leaders Program and its success, read the Alaska Dispatch News article Dramatic Suicide Drop in Northwest After Students Take Charge.

Watch this 2013 retreat highlight video to gain a better perspective into the students’ training:

Barriers

Cultural conflict involving village elders as well as educational and tribal political influences must be addressed prior to implementation.

Replication

The most critical component of this program is the gathering of students at an annual retreat. This is the major cost to the program, as all of the district’s students must be flown into the regional hub. It is during this retreat that best practice, cultural competence, and clear and concise messaging are learned and retained by students. Monthly video conferences and social media provide follow-up lessons and connectivity.

The program coordinator must have professional integrity and be passionate about social issues that affect youth, especially indigenous people. There are numerous social and professional situations that can challenge the coordinator and decision-making within the program.

Topics
American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians
Behavioral health
Children and youth
Mental health
Schools
Substance abuse
Suicide and suicide prevention
States served
Alaska
Date added
October 29, 2015
Date updated or reviewed
October 17, 2016

Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.