The Langdon Area School District (LASD) along with St. Alphonsus Catholic School have partnered to bring a new program to its students called Start with Hello.
By Melissa Anderson
The program was created by the Sandy Hook Promise, an organization that is led by several family members whose loved ones were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December of 2012, to “build a national movement of parents, schools and community organizations engaged and empowered to deliver gun violence prevention programs and mobilize for the passage of sensible state and national policy.” The program kicked-off this last week, March 20-24.
“As the superintendent of the Langdon Area Schools, I feel it is my responsibility to set and manage the culture in our school district,” LASD Superintendent Daren Christianson explained,” How students are engaged in their school and community has a direct correlation to their sense of belonging and satisfaction of life. If we can help those who feel isolated feel more involved, it benefits us all.”
Christianson presented the Start with Hello concepts at a recent Chamber of Commerce meeting. He let area businesses know what week the school would be doing the program and how they could get involved by wearing the logoed shirts and doing something locally at their business if they wanted. Christianson also met with the Ministerial Association hoping they could support the concepts through their church sermons the weekends around this week.
“I wanted St. A’s to be part of this program because it is a positive thing for the community. It is great program to work with the public school on, and it strengthens relationships in St. A’s and in the community,” Derek Simonsen, principal at St. Alphonsus, said, “Anytime we can find positive ways to help the community and strengthen relationships with positive communication, we have to do it.”
Simonsen would like to thank Mr. Christianson for inviting St. Alphonsus to be part of the program and for being very helpful throughout the planning stages.
“He has been great to work with on this program and many other things this year between the schools,” Simonsen said.
Start with Hello focuses on helping stop and alleviate the problem of social isolation, which is the feeling of being left out, lonely and treated like you are invisible.
“At every school and in every community there are children who feel like they have no friends and quietly suffer through each day – especially at lunchtime and other moments where friends gather together,” the program states.
Young people who are isolated can become a victim of bullying, violence and/or depression. As a result, many further pull away from society, struggle with learning and social development and/or choose to hurt themselves or others.
“The Start with Hello program is a great way to encourage students to interact with other students, teachers, family, and community members in a positive way. It helps the school move the conversation forward regarding positive communication and inclusion of all students in the school,” Simonsen said.
Start with Hello is designed to bring individuals and communities together to foster looking out for and caring for one another. An example of one of the concepts of the program is that it asks students, educators, parents and other community leaders who interact with children to take a simple, yet incredibly powerful, action at lunchtime – making sure that no one eats alone.
“This simple action, when taught and put into practice, instills the power and reward of social inclusion – that when you see someone alone at lunch (or across any other experience), say hello, introduce yourself, ask them to join you,” the program explains.
Start with Hello delivered a toolkit to help the schools implement the program. The toolkit included events, activities and actions that can be taken to instill the program’s concepts and overall message of inclusion and community.
“I taught the concepts of the program to the juniors and seniors, Mrs. Hiltner taught the freshmen and sophomores, and the high school student council students taught the concepts to the K-8 students by grade level,” Christianson said.
All students in grades K-12 took part in the Start with Hello program at both the Langdon Area Schools and the St. Alphonsus School.
The Langdon Area High School Student Council organized a variety of activities during the week for LASD students. It started with a pep rally and activities on Monday morning following the instructional period.
“They had a positivity wall all week for students to use post it notes to write positive messages to each other,” Christianson said.
Homeroom and advisor teachers met with their groups and had socialization ice breakers to help their students practice engaging in conversations. Tuesday was the Random Acts of kindness challenge and favorite shirt day.
“We asked students to start conversations with each other on why this happens to be their favorite shirt,” Christianson said.
Wednesday was “Hey Day”, and everyone was issued a name tag and were instructed to make a point to use first names in their discussions during the course of the day. The positivity wall and ice breakers also continued through the week with Thursday being super hero day with additional ice breaker activities. Friday was wear green day and included No One Eats Alone activities.
At St. A’s, they took part in the various themes for each day like wear your favorite shirt day and super hero day as well as having their own positivity wall at their school for students and staff to write positive and encouraging notes on all week as a way to lift up others at St. A’s.
“We also took part in the kick-off of the program at the LAS high school that provided a great learning experience about the program and an opportunity to build bridges with the public school students and staff as well,” Simonsen said.
Christianson felt that another benefit to the Start with Hello program was that it could not only help the students of LASD and St. A’s better interact with one another but help the students interact with older generations, also.
“I feel that it is important for our students to widen their view of influence,” Christianson explained, “It will not be long before the juniors and seniors that I instructed on the program will become the community leaders in our town or in other towns in their lives.”
Christianson used the example of some of the elderly in the community who may feel isolated to the students as a way for them to relate to those community members as they would to their own grandparents to make it real for them.
The Start with Hello program benefits the children, faculty, and administrators in both the short and long term. The long term benefit is for the entire community as generations begin to incorporate what they learned this week into the community by being connected to one another and demonstrate inclusion practices.
According to Sandy Hook Promise, the core concept of the program is the importance of inclusion and the tragic results that can result when people are excluded.
“Children, teachers and community-based organizational leaders are given tools on how to break the ice, break down barriers and get to know one another through interpersonal interaction as well as how to create and sustain an inclusive cultural community,” the organization states.
To find out more about the Start with Hello program or to see how you, as a community member, can contribute to this program, please contact Daren Christianson at the high school or go to www.sandyhookpromise.org .