Common Roots embraces Sources of Strength on campus

April 3, 2020 — by Nicole Lu and Cici Xu

Common Roots and eight staff members teamed up in Sources of Strength aiming to create a more cohesive campus environment

Editor’s note: This story was written before the coronavirus epidemic closed schools on March 13.


Junior Francesca Fernandes found herself in a small group led by drama teacher Sarah Thermond, surrounded by people that she didn’t know very well in the MAP Annex in late February.  

Things got close and personal as they discussed using social media and school-wide projects to empower students and to prevent them from falling into a dark place. Fernandes remembers feeling safe and connected to other team members as they talked about and shared the challenges they faced.

Her experience was made possible by Sources of Strength, an organization designed to build protective influences and reduce the likelihood of suicides among students as young as elementary schoolers. Its mission is to provide prevention for suicide, violence, bullying and substance abuse by training, supporting and empowering both peer leaders and caring adults.

Staff and students involved in the Sources of Strength training are hoping to foster a more secure environment on campus and help students find both long-term purposes in attending school, but also to build resilience in the face of obstacles. 

“Its ultimate goal is not catching somebody when they're in a critical place, like a counselor or a 911 call has to do. It is more like catching them way up the river,” said assistant principal Kerry Mohnike, who focuses on social-emotional learning in the administration team. “It takes on the role of somebody who helps people enjoy their swimming time and not fall over the waterfall.”

Common Roots Club, which coordinates Sources of Strength, initiated this program at Saratoga seven years ago. There are now eight staff members — Lindsay Harris, Lauren Taylor, Marina Barnes, Erick Rector, Sarah Thermond, Kelly Nicholson and Mariam Fan — participating in training with history teacher and Adult Program Coordinator Faith Daly, who leads the program. The workshop took place from Feb. 25 to 26, and was the first session held in four years. The training sessions were open to anyone who wanted to participate. 

Invited staff attended on Feb. 25, while both students and staff participated Feb. 26. Over 100 students attended the workshop during the second day of training. 

Common Roots Club members are heavily involved in this program, as well as officers including president senior Emma Hsu and vice president senior Ashwini Achutharaman. 

“We plan activities that try to strengthen different parts of values that we learned from the training,” Hsu said. “During the training, we divided into eight different sections, which had topics such as healthy friends, positive adults, health care and all these different things.” 

Throughout the training, peer leaders talked about what contributes to a healthy life and taught the student attendees how to address different situations when people are in need through discussions and games. 

Though supported by the school administration, Daly emphasized the fact that this program has been peer-based.

“While administration provided funding, and myself and other adult leaders provide guidance, Sources of Strength is a peer leader program,” Daly said. “By focusing on our strengths and knowing how to reach out and activate them when times get tough, Sources of Strength helps students when they have struggles with mental health.”

Common Roots organizes different activities every year to strengthen the relationships between students and staff members ranging from movie nights, discussion panels and shared lunches. Last year, the club arranged a movie night with CASSY for the community in the McAfee Center for a showing of the documentary “Angst,” which provided students and parents a comfortable environment to discuss how to cope with anxiety. 

“We try to establish connections between teachers and students because I know that's hard these days,” Hsu said.

The overarching goal of both Common Roots and Sources of Strength at Saratoga High is to, ultimately, create a more cohesive campus. Hsu and the other club members are enthusiastic about the club’s mission in promoting different values and ideas.

“If you are in a dark place, you do not have to stay there and there is always a way out if you harness your ‘sources of strength,’” Fernandes said.