The program aims to include all students in campus life and prevent social isolation of students as well as reduce bullying and violence.
Sandy Hook Promise was created by parents Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, who both lost children in the deadly 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
“The problem of social isolation hasn’t gone away, and with social media, it’s so easy to get more lost in the crowd,” said Sarah Te, Burnet Middle School teacher and sponsor of the school’s Interact Club, which helps organize and maintain the campus’ Start With Hello program.
Burnet Middle School has participated in the program since 2017. The name comes from the program’s main goal of inclusivity: If you see someone who seems like they feel out of place, walk up to them and say “hello.”
Due to COVID-19, the campus was not able to hold assemblies this year to explain the program to new students, so organizers put together a video to be showed in homeroom classes. Throughout the week, Interact Club members and other students highlighted the program’s goals. They even worked to ensure their classmates learning remotely felt like they were part of the campus community.
“It’s been more challenging this year,” Te admitted, “but the kids are so committed to this.”
The students made a video reciting Maya Angelou’s poem “Alone” for Start With Hello week. That, according to Te, was one of the things that drew the attention of Sandy Hook Promise’s leadership.
It takes more than a week to make Start With Hello and other Sandy Hook Promise programs, such as Say Something, successful. Te said students and staff work throughout the year, and not just at the middle school. Burnet elementary campuses have their own Start With Hello programs, and the district is supportive of students’ efforts.
Te pointed out that the community also has embraced Start With Hello, noting many businesses and churches put those words on their marquees earlier this year.
“It really is a community effort,” she said.