On December 14, 2012, I had just dropped my two elementary- aged children off at school. The upcoming Christmas break, class parties, teachers’ gifts and childhood excitement was consuming my mind. Then, several states away, a 20-year-old man shot and killed 26 people (including 20 students) at a Connecticut elementary school and everything changed. Fellow parents and myself could no longer just drop our children off at school with blind faith that they would be safe, and we wondered how things could ever move forward. Out of the tragedy, the Sandy Hook Promise was started by loved ones of the victims lost at Sandy Hook.
According to their website, the non-profit’s goal is to provide programs and practices to schools to help protect children and hopefully prevent the senseless loss of life. This fall, Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) participated in the Sandy Hook Promise’s Know the Signs programs. It teaches students to be more socially inclusive and connected to each other. This program is free and encourages students in every grade to reach out to those who might otherwise feel alone. The program’s basic principles are designed to empower students, no matter the age, to end social isolation by teaching them three easy steps:
1. See Someone Alone:
How to recognize the signs of loneliness and social isolation
2. Reach Out and Help:
What students can do to help others feel included
3. Start With Hello:
How to break the ice and strike up a conversation
Students participated in a Know The Signs assembly focused on their “Start With Hello” program, which according to the Sandy Hook promise website, “teaches youth to minimize social isolation, empathize with others, and create a more inclusive and connected culture. After, students were given stickers saying “Start With Hello” that helped start the conversation at home about the initiative. The intent is to carry over these principles from school to everyday life. It’s something we can all do to show kindness.
Karen Pearson, a Nationally Certified School Counselor at Stephen Foster Elementary School, said that last school year the Alachua County School Board adopted the Start With Hello program as a district wide initiative. Each school met to discuss how they wanted to implement the program to meet the needs of their students, but all schools participate in some way.
“I think it was a nice way to kick things off at the beginning of the school year,” Pearson said. Her school had different things planned for each day of the week to introduce the students to the program. For example, during morning announcements students learned how to simply say “hello” in different languages. Students were encouraged to wear green on Wednesday in support of mental health. Green stickers saying “Start With Hello” were given out. Classes created “Hello” posters for display in the hallways. They even reprogrammed one of the “Easy” buttons to say “Hello” instead. This was located in the front office and anytime kids were coming and going, they could press the button to say “Hello”.
“This was a way that non-verbal students, or those who just aren’t overly talkative, felt comfortable being involved.” Pearson said. The following week, the school counselors met to discuss and share ideas on new ways to get involved next year.
The Sandy Hook Promise organization hopes that by bringing awareness to mental health issues, gun safety and research through the programs they share, we can prevent more senseless tragedies. If you have questions about your child’s school participation or if you want to get involved, contact your school counselor or visit Sandyhookpromise.org.