Inspired by Sandy Hook Tragedy Mahopac Schools commit to inclusiveness and connectedness in the classroom and beyond
Along with thousands of schools and youth organizations across the country, the Mahopac Central School District schools resolved to “Start with Hello” this week. As an outcome the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy, “Start With Hello” Week, September 24-28, was conceived by the not-for-profit Sandy Hook Promise knowing that, in every school and in every community, there are young people who suffer silently because they feel left out, alone or invisible.
Still new into the school year, the “Start With Hello” objective is to make all students immediately feel seen, accepted and safe. Social isolation is a growing epidemic in the United States and within schools, and it can be associated with violent and suicidal behavior. One study found that chronic loneliness increases the risk of an early death by 14%. Young people who are isolated can become victims of bullying, violence and/or depression, and as a result, many pull further away from society, struggle with learning and social development and/or choose to hurt themselves or others.
Fostering inclusion and community, the Mahopac elementary schools’ students and staff have committed to say “hello” when seeing someone who appears lonely, and then reaching out to help. During the week the students participated in curriculum activities that help fuel the skills they need to create a culture of inclusion and connectedness.
The Mahopac Middle School is extending “Start With Hello” Week into a year-long initiative called the Wingman Program. This student-led program is a social and emotional learning environment from Dylan’s Wings of Change, a foundation dedicated to the memory of Dylan Hockley, one of the first grade victims of the Sandy Hook School shootings. Dylan had autism, and was at his best when those around him would step up and be his “Wingman.” The middle school has over 50 student volunteers, who are serving as Wingmen. They run “Mix It Up” day, which encourages students to get out of their comfort zones and meet new friends; facilitate lessons about inclusiveness in classes; and act as Wingman Spotters, who are on the lookout to "go above and beyond to support others."
From handing out lollipops and a “hello” to Mahopac High School students coming to school in the morning, to putting blank “meme” images on cafeteria lunch tables to invite conversation, to having clementines with positive messages on student desks, the high school social work team provided students daily gestures that spark a “hello” and conversation.
The hope is practicing “Start With Hello” will translate to home and the community too. Some specific tactics the parents and guardians can do to help foster inclusiveness and connectedness are:
- Make an intentional effort to greet each other with hello and ask questions about each other’s day.
- Practice active listening.
- During car rides or at dinner challenge each other to use eye contact and truly listen.
- Model best practices for your child.
- Say hello to strangers on the street and make conversations at stores or restaurants.
- Tell your child a story about a time that you reached out to someone who was alone and in need. What happened? How did you feel afterwards?
- Talk about what your child can do if they ever feel lonely at school. Remind your child that you are always there for them if they need someone to talk to.
- Talk about good and bad kinds of being alone.
Keeping with the “Mahopac Way” the District will continue to engage students in programming and curriculum that encourages a culture of inclusiveness, compassion and kindness.
About Sandy Hook Promise
Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) is a national, nonprofit organization based in Newtown, Connecticut. SHP is led by several family members whose loved ones were killed in the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook School on December 14, 2012. SHP’s sole purpose is to educate and empower parents, schools and community organizations on how to prevent gun violence BEFORE it happens by providing mental health & wellness early-identification and intervention programs, gun safety storage practices and advocating for sensible state and federal violence prevention policy.
About Sandy Hook Promise and our other school and community-based prevention programs and training, please visit : sandyhookpromise.org