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Vernon School 'Starts with Hello' to Foster Inclusion

Students at James H. Vernon School understand what a friendly smile or a helpful gesture could mean to a student who feels isolated or alone. They just completed the “Start with Hello” program, initiated by the national non-profit Sandy Hook Promise, led by family members whose loved ones were lost in the fatal mass shooting at Sandy Hook School in 2012. Through their pain, they launched the program to help educate and empower students so they can cultivate a more positive and nurturing school environment.


“It’s all about learning how to identify when someone feels alone, and how to reach out so that they feel accepted and included,” said Dean of Students Ms. Nicole Silva, who piloted the program at Vernon last year.  “When more students feel accepted by their peers, they feel more secure and more comfortable to be themselves and to thrive.”


Vernon students, along with more than 12,000 schools across the country, took action to spread the power of the program’s three simple steps: see someone alone, reach out and help, Start with Hello.


Each day of the week had a different theme. The first theme, ““Promise 2 Start with Hello” had student leaders greeting their peers with “hello” and providing nametags. Next, for the theme “Promise 2 Reach Out and Help,” students were encouraged to share a time they helped others or were in need of help by others by writing and drawing about it on a worksheet.  Throughout the week, students also engaged in the great kindness challenge for “Promise 2 be Kind,” learned how to say hello in different languages for “Promise 2 Embrace Diversity” and took the promise challenge, in which they promised to continue to carry out acts of kindness among their peers, for the theme “Promise 2 Connect.”


Students embraced the program with a multitude of good deeds from asking a new friend for a playdate to being nice to others to helping those in need.


“Start with Hello helps us reach out to other kids who may be feeling down or kids that you don’t really know and try to make them feel better,” said 4th grader Trevor Fairbend.


“I think it’s a good program because if someone doesn’t have any friends or they are sad, this gives you a chance, even if you’re shy, to just say hello to someone and make them feel better,” said 5th grader Maddy Haigh. “This is good for the school because with more and more friends, you have a stronger power over a bully so if you get bullied your friends can always stand up for you and then eventually bullying would not happen anymore.”


A letter sent to parents and guardians points out that social isolation is a growing epidemic in the United States and in schools, and that feelings of loneliness are among the worst for younger generations, which can lead to bullying, violence and/or depression. The good news, the letter states, is that there are cures for disconnectedness and loneliness, and that talking to their children about the program and practicing ways of reinforcing its lessons can help.


“It’s not only important for parents to support their children in identifying isolation, reaching out and connecting with Start with Hello,” said Principal Dr. Valerie Vacchio, “it’s important that our students see that their parents take this subject seriously and can support them in their actions to create a more connected and inclusive home, classroom, school and community.”

students writes her kindness promise on a poster  students write kindness promises on posters  students write promises of kindness on posters

Students take the promise challenge by promising to carry out different acts of kindness and writing them on posters in the school cafeteria.

 worksheets line the hallways

Worksheets describing how students needed help or how they helped others line a hallway as a reminder to demonstrate empathy for others.