They don't wear superhero capes. You might not notice who they are among other students. But they are a special group of seventh- and eighth-grade girls and boys.

The 10 of them are known as the Hope Squad at Walworth Jt. School District #1. Their purpose is to help their classmates who may be having suicidal thoughts or other issues.

"Peers identify students who are caring, good listeners and empathetic; peers they could go to for help," said school counselor Lee Knoble-Janney, who helps guide the program. The 10 members of the Hope Squad meet every other Tuesday with Knoble-Janney and Jodie Klamm, a middle school special educator instructor.

The Hope Squad concept began in Utah, where they lost some students to suicide. Leaders there decided on a peer-to-peer mentoring suicide prevention plan.

"Research found (those thinking of) suicide or self-harm are two times more likely to tell a peer than an adult," said Knoble-Janney about why the Hope Squads were created. Walworth County received funding to give to all county schools that would be part of the program. The county funds the first three years, with hopes all of the schools would participate, said Knoble-Janney.

He, Klamm and school principal Caitlin Dowden trained for the program a whole day last May in Elkhorn. After potential Hope Squad members were identified, they were asked if they would like to be part of the program. They have to make 80 percent of the meetings, have parental permission and keep up overall kindness and respect from school," said Knoble-Janney. "The staff did not pick (the students) at all."

It is emphasized the Hope Squad members are not the counselors.

"They bridge that gap," said Knoble-Janney. They can ask questions, persuade and refer students to Knoble-Janney or counselor Jennifer Ott-Wilson.

"We have a loving school. We want kids in tune," said Knoble-Janney. "Jen and I built this rapport...I like to think the majority (of students) care for each other. They feel they share enough to serve. (It is a) 'we love you and care for you' kind of thing."

Knoble-Janney stressed that "if a child mentions suicide or self harm, we always contact parents." The counselors, who maintain privacy, want students to know their room is a "safe place," where "the door is always open."

The Hope Squad helps friends and they are empowered, said Knoble-Janney, while noting "they're kids as well," so there are two trusted adults for them.

"That person (who needs help) may need a little extra TLC," added the counselor, referring to tender, loving care. There is a wrap-around service to help the students and there is always follow-up for those who received help.

"Our job here at school is to help kids within the school walls to be their safe place," said Knoble-Janney, who added they offer a list of all counseling places in the area.

Knoble-Janney, who was hired in 2008, said there has not been a suicide during his time at Walworth. However, they do teach universal suicide prevention programs and teach lessons to seventh- and eighth-grade students. The students learn about the facts and myths about suicide. The county taught the first lesson.

Major topics include violence prevention, drugs/alcohol and safety. In this second semester of the school year, the focus will be academic and career planning. Seventh- and eighth-graders will learn more about harassment and empathy. All students are seen in classrooms regularly, as well as small groups and individually.

Knoble-Janney said they are trying to meet students "where they are at; they need patience. It takes a lot of patience on our end too."

Patience ... and hope.