EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
BURNET — The day after a gunman killed 14 students and three faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, several Burnet Middle School Interact Club members met with club sponsor Sara Te.
“‘We have to do something,’” Te recalled the students telling her Feb. 15.
While the students were far removed from the tragedy that unfolded half a country away, it wasn’t in their nature to just do nothing.
They came up with a short video in which they say that if they see someone who looks alone, they will “Start With Hello,” then listed the names of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas victims as well as several other mass shootings over the past years.
They sent the video to the Florida school as a way to show their support.
It might not make much of difference, but it was something they had to do.
However, where the Burnet Middle School students are really effecting change is on their own campus and in their community through the implementation of two Sandy Hook Promise programs: “Start With Hello” and “Say Something.”
Last year, the campus initiated “Start With Hello,” which included a visit by Nicole Hockley, a founder and director of Sandy Hook Promise. Her son, Dylan, died Dec. 14, 2012, when a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and opened fire, killing 20 students and six staff members.
The foundation’s “Start With Hello” program is a way to get people to break down the walls between each other and prevent violence. It encourages students to reach out to those they don’t know or connect with kids who might feel left out. The Burnet Middle School Interact Club took the lead on the program, but it’s now permeating the entire campus.
Then, in October 2017, the school added a second Sandy Hook Promise program, “Say Something,” which encourages students to let an adult know if the youth hear about or know of another student considering harm to themselves or others.
The two programs appear to be making a difference, and the results are very real.
Katie Bird, an eighth-grader and Interact Club officer, recalled another student approaching a few of the club officers to tell them about a third girl who had apparently written a suicide note. The officers took the information to Te.
“They came to me, and we contacted parents and counselors and got her help,” the teacher said.
Then, during “Start With Hello” week in January of this year, another student reached out to a teacher after overhearing a second student say he was going to go home and kill himself. Again, the staff took action and got the student in question assistance.
“When they asked the reporting student if he would have reported this before ‘Start With Hello,’ he said no,” Te said.
“It is making a difference,” Bird said.
Kylie Butcher, another eighth-grader and Interact Club officer, pointed out that even small things can have a major effect on a student.
“Sometimes, you feel awkward and you think you’re the only one who feels like that. You start feeling alone,” she said. “But with ‘Start With Hello,’ we might see someone who feels like that and just kind of talk to them.”
Butcher admitted reaching out to someone can be awkward, but once you start talking with the person, you get past that feeling. And soon, that student realizes he or she isn’t alone after all.
It’s about making those connections, Te explained. “Start With Hello” helps students develop the tools to reach out to someone else. “Say Something” gives students the knowledge of what to do if they learn someone is thinking about harming themselves or others.
“You don’t just say something, you start with hello,” Butcher said in a way to sum up how the programs support one another.
“‘Start With Hello’ is prevention; ‘Say Something’ is intervention,” Te added.
“You really do need both programs,” Bird said.
And it’s not just for schools. Butcher pointed out people of all ages can feel left out.
“If you see someone who looks like they’re alone, even in church, start with ‘hello’,” she said. “That’s all it takes, sometimes, to help.”
Both Bird and Butcher believe programs such as “Start With Hello” and “Say Something” can help prevent school shootings. One of the things that frustrates them is how normal the tragic events have become.
Bird noted that Marjory Stoneman Douglas students dropped their backpacks and personal items when the shooting began and fled the school with their hands on their heads.
“The kids are prepared for this,” Bird said. “This is absolutely terrible that we need to know how to do these things. That’s why we need programs like ‘Start With Hello’ and ‘Say Something.’”
“You should feel happy to go to school, and safe,” she said. “It’s not something you should be scared of. I think these programs can make a difference. They do make a difference.”
During the January “Start With Hello” kickoff assembly, which Interact Club officers and members conducted, students from Marble Falls, Lampasas, and Liberty Hill middle school Interact Clubs attended. They met with their Burnet peers, who shared with them how to get involved in “Start With Hello” and “Say Something.”
Go to sandyhookpromise.org for more information on the programs. Te is also a Texas Promise Leader ambassador and can assist other schools and organizations on getting the programs off the ground. Call Burnet Middle School at (512) 756-6182 for more information.