‘Start With Hello' Effort Fights Isolation in Schools

The "Start With Hello" program kicked off at Pioneer Middle School in Cooper City.

Every child feels lonely at some point, that’s just reality for everyone. Some kids, however, are chronically lonely. These are the kids who are always being left out, the ones eating alone in the cafeteria. Now there’s an effort to change school culture, getting kids to reach out to their isolated classmates.

"Start With Hello," which is the name of the program created by the Sandy Hook Promise organization, fights chronic social isolation.

“I often think about perhaps if these programs had been in place before what happened at Sandy Hook, perhaps Dylan would still be with me today,” said Nicole Hockley, speaking to an assembly of students at Pioneer Middle School in Cooper City.

Hockley’s son, Dylan, was a first grader among the children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.

“Chronic social isolation can lead to a lot of factors, it can lead to bullying or being bullied, it can lead to other at-risk behaviors such as cutting or low self-esteem or eating disorders, and at its extreme, it can lead to suicide or homicide,” Hockley said.

Sandy Hook Promise was founded by Hockley and other parents with the goal of preventing school violence.

The "Start With Hello" program teaches kids to recognize who needs a little attention and provides them with simple strategies to approach that boy or girl who may be isolated.

“This is an effort to create some balance for our kids in their lives, give ‘em a reason to come to school,” said Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie.

Runcie says the initiative is clearly a safety measure, which he thinks can prevent depressed children from harming themselves or others.

“It’s a big thing for a kid who’s alone to know that someone sees them, someone recognizes them and someone wants to be their friend, that can change the whole course of your life,” Hockley said.

It could be something as simple as a high-five in the hallway, an invitation to a party, or liking that person’s picture on Instagram.

Hockley says now that this program is in its third year, and hundreds of schools have been included, the organization is getting reports that bullying incidents have decreased in those schools.

And it all starts with hello.

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