Northville students learn to start with a hello

Northville Central Shool District middle school students pose for a photo on Friday after celebrating their Start With Hello week, an initiative to teach students to be kind and helpful to one another. (The Leader-Herald/Briana O’Hara)

NORTHVILLE — Middle school pupils at Northville Central School District learned the importance of being nice and how just saying “hello” to a stranger can make their day.

This week students participated in the Start With Hello Week in partnership with Sandy Hook Promise, a national, nonprofit organization led by several family members whose children died in the tragic 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Throughout the week students participated in activities that taught them the importance of reaching out to include anyone who may be dealing with chronic social isolation, and to create a culture of inclusion and connectedness within the school or youth organizations.

Those activities throughout the week included having students who are on sports teams and club members greeting staff and students each day; a Mix and Mingle Day in which each student pledged to sit with new groups of students; poetry and art contests for grades 2 through 12; morning announcements that encouraged students to take the “promise of the day;” a Start With Hello Instagram; and a school newsletter.

“I think it was very successful. We had students who talked about the promise of the day, which was just a theme or idea for the day. So on the announcements every morning, student groups would go down and talk about the promise of the day and share with the school how to basically how to implement that,” said middle school teacher, Jayme Bevington. “They created art and poetry contest for all of 2nd through 12th grade that were related to kindness; they have a class Instagram that they took videos and pictures and posted online for those as well, and read books to the second graders. The Mix and Mingle Day we randomly put kids from middle school and high school a lunch tables so they can meet new people and talk to new people that day.”

An example of one of the promises of the day was embracing diversity. That promise saw students talk about being exposed to different cultures and making friends with people from new places.

Bevington said there is a lot of diversity in Northville, even though it is a small school. She said there are students from a variety of backgrounds and even a foreign exchange student from Italy this year.

According to a press release, “Social isolation is the overwhelming feeling of being left out, lonely, or treated like you are invisible. It is a growing epidemic in the United States and within our schools. Excessive feelings of isolation can be associated with violent and suicidal behavior.”

Studies report that chronic loneliness increases the risk of an early death by 14 percent, and young people who are isolated can become victims of bullying, violence and depression which can result in many pulling further away from society, struggle with learning and social development and may choose to hurt themselves or others.

On Friday, following the week of activities, the students had a Start With Hello celebration and presentation in which staff thanked students for their week of kindness and encouraged them continue to be kind and help one another.

Northville high school and its principal Kyle McFarland told students he is proud of each and every single one of them and asked them how they are going to continue to be nice.

“That’s my challenge to you,” McFarland said. “This is not a week-long thing. I am going to challenge teachers to keep it going.”

There to read a statement from Village Mayor John Spaeth was Trustee Sue Sedon.

“This is supporting Northville Central School’s Start With Hello Program, whereas, it is widely recognized that feelings of social isolation and disconnectedness can lead to instances of withdrawal, striking out and violence; whereas, by signing up for the Start With Hello week, Northville Central School will be helping to bring attention to the growing epidemic of social isolation and empowering young people to create a culture of inclusion and connectedness,” she read.

Schools, student clubs, parents and community leaders can visit to learn more about the program and how to begin using the program resources in classrooms, schools, communities and homes.

By Kerry Minor

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