Along with thousands of schools and youth organizations across the country, the Mahopac Central School District schools resolved to “Start with Hello” last week. As an outcome the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy, “Start with Hello” Week, Sept. 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 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.