EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
BURNET — As Burnet Middle School Interact Club sponsor Sara Te stood before the student body, she summed up the efforts of the club and student body to create a more inclusive campus, which began two years ago with the Start With Hello program.
“A lot of you don’t know what his assembly is about,” she said during a presentation Sept. 6 in the Burnet Middle School auditorium. “It’s really all about you.”
Since the campus initiated Start With Hello, a Sandy Hook Promise program that works to bring campuses and communities together to prevent violence and social isolation, Burnet Middle School has become an exemplary leader among schools across the country using the program.
It’s something Sandy Hook Promise has noticed. During the assembly, Carleen Wray, a Safe Promise Club manager with the foundation, presented the Interact Club and the entire campus with the Start With Hello Community Reach and Sustainability runner-up award.
Burnet Middle School student and Interact Club member Hayden Brown pointed out to the students that more than 1,300 campuses participate in Start With Hello, but “little old 4A Burnet” has demonstrated how it can make a difference both on campus and in the community. That’s one of the things that caught the attention of officials with Sandy Hook Promise.
Wray told the students they haven’t just transformed their own campus: Their efforts have extended into the Burnet community and even beyond. She pointed out a video the Interact students made depicting kids feeling left out, socially isolated, and picked on, and how simply reaching out to them by starting with “hello” can make a difference.
“Your video went viral,” she said. “Schools across the country have watched it.”
In a video message to the Burnet Middle School student body, Sandy Hook Promise founder and managing director Mark Barden congratulated the students on their work to make the campus and community stronger and more inclusive through programs such as Start With Hello. The middle school also implemented the organization’s Say Something program last year.
“You’ve been one of our champion schools for a long time,” he said. “Thank you for your amazing work.”
The Interact Club brought Start With Hello to the campus two years ago. It started with a weeklong kickoff celebration featuring several activities geared toward breaking down barriers and kids getting to know each other. The campus continued the program and participated in the annual Start With Hello week last year and will again later this year. Last year, the campus also began using Say Something, another Sandy Hook Promise program that teaches students, staff, and others what to do if they learn someone is going the harm themselves or others.
These programs were borne out of tragedy. Several parents of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012, founded Sandy Hook Promise in an effort to help prevent violence by focusing on prevention through educating youth and adults on mental health and wellness and offering programs “that identity, intervene, and help at-risk individuals.”
Te said she and campus staff have witnessed students reaching out when they’ve heard of someone contemplating harming themselves. The students told Te or others the Start With Hello and Say Something programs gave them the knowledge and confidence to do something.
Wray said this is how programs such as Start With Hello really make a difference. It’s not the teachers or adults driving the change, but the students themselves.
“It’s wonderful because Mrs. Te is very good about empowering the youth,” Wray said. “Students listen to students better than they listen to adults. The kids are the ones really fueling it here in Burnet.”
This year, Start With Hello week is Sept. 24-28. The free program, along with other Sandy Hook Promise initiatives, isn’t just for schools. Organizations, churches, and even local governments can use them. Go to sandyhookpromise.org for more information or contact Te at email@example.com.