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'Start with Hello' week aims to prevent bullying and isolation

Henderson County public school students next week will take steps to prevent bullying, recognize when their peers are isolating themselves and sitting with a different group in the lunchroom than their usual clique.

Called Start With Hello Week, the ideas were developed by the Sandy Hook Promise organization to teach students to recognize signs of isolation in their peers and to be more inclusive by reaching out – to prevent bullying and violence before it happens.

The program also teaches students to make a difference with their peers by taking small, yet powerful, actions to promote connectedness and inclusion and to identify and help lonely students who are showing signs of social isolation. Social isolation is the overwhelming feeling of being left out, lonely or treated as invisible. According to Sandy Hook Promise, youth who feel this way may pull away from society, struggle with learning and social development, or choose to hurt themselves or others.

Individual school initiatives and events during Start With Hello Week have been organized by HCPS’ school social workers and counselors to create a culture of inclusion that values each individual in our schools.

“Our school counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, school nurses, teachers, and administrators know that meeting the basic needs of students is critical to learning and safe schools,” Director of Student Services Matt Gruebmeyer said in a news release.

At Apple Valley Middle, students will “Mix It Up” at lunch on Friday and sit at color-coded tables matching the color of their outfit that day, using provided conversation starters to connect with peers they don’t usually sit with. Flat Rock Middle students will be writing “Encouragements for Everyone” on Post-It notes Thursday, sticking them on lockers of peers they don’t know well.

Clear Creek Elementary students will be building a paper chain to symbolize the connections they have to each other and the importance of each person in the chain, and several schools like Fletcher Elementary will be hosting a “Big Greet” in car rider lines, with school staff and community members welcoming and high-fiving students as they arrive at school.

“Food, shelter, safety, love and belonging are critical building blocks upon which a great education rests,” Gruebmeyer says. “Start with Hello is one way to help students feel safe, get connected to their teachers and classmates, and feel like they are part of their school community.”