On February 7th, Lakeside lecture hall filled with 7th graders for a special presentation from the Sandy Hook Promise organization, “Start With Hello.” Sandy Hook Promise is an organization founded after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. Their goal is to prevent gun violence before it starts through educating people about the warning signs.
North Broward Prep was connected to this organization as an extension of a National History Day Project. Seventh graders Johnny Feltingoff, Riley Rosenthal, and Clancy Marsh wanted to do a project focusing on gun violence, and their research led them to the Sandy Hook Promise organization in search of an interview. After the project was over, however, the boys decided to take it to the next level and, with the aid of their teachers and faculty, invited the members of the program to come present to the seventh grade.
The lecture hall filled with a sea of green-clad middle schoolers—green is the official color of Sandy Hook Promise, as it is the school color of Sandy Hook Elementary. Students watched intently as Mark Borden, parent of Daniel, one of the victims of the tragic Sandy Hook shooting, opened the presentation by telling about his child. Consistently referring to his lost son affectionately as “my little Daniel,” Mr. Borden described a child who was bright, kind, and had a wonderful capacity for reaching out to others. He was the kind of kid who held open the door for children and adults alike, would sit with the new, lonely student at lunch, and always had a bright smile. These principles—inclusion, courtesy, and kindness—are the pillars of the Start With Hello program.
Andy stressed the importance of making inclusion not only fun, but natural, something that everyone does every day, “like holding the door.” He laid out the inclusion process in three simple steps: 1. See someone alone, 2. Reach out, and the most important, 3. Start with Hello. For each of these steps he gave examples of ways students could engage, supplying a guide to spot people who have distanced themselves from communities, a list of sample icebreakers, and discussed the various modes of communication students could use, citing the impact of handwritten notes in our modern world.
The difference between this presentation and other anti bullying techniques, Andy explained, was that these things were life skills, and that by teaching each other how to be kind, we are passing responsibility to the students, rather than adults, to make sure all feel included. Sometimes this is as simple as making eye contact and smiling, or using someone’s first name in conversations. These simple but powerful things communicate to others, “I see you. You’re important to me.”
In his closing remarks, Andy issued a challenge, the same challenge I am now presenting to you: Find someone from a different community, be it a different grade, team, class, or friend group, and start with…Hello.