Start with Hello

Kenilworth Schools join national movement to tackle student isolation
Posted on 11/16/2020
Start With Hello


Kenilworth Schools join national movement to tackle student isolation

‘Start with Hello’ campaign from Sandy Hook Promise aims to connect kids, prevent violence


A preschool student at Harding Elementary dances during the class’ morning meeting work. The ‘How Are You Today?’ song is part of the Kenilworth district’s commitment to social emotional check-ins and an extension of the premise of Sandy Hook Promise’s ‘Start with Hello’ program.


Kenilworth, N.J. -- In these times of social distancing, it can be hard for children to feel, well, social.

Many are learning remotely, and even those who are in classrooms might have limited opportunities for peer interaction because of COVID-19 safety rules.

Recognizing the challenges that children would face this year, Kenilworth Public Schools incorporated additional social and emotional learning initiatives into its reopening plans. Sandy Hook Promise’s “Start with Hello” program offered yet another opportunity for the district to connect with students.

“Objectives outlined in ‘Start with Hello’ closely align with units in the district’s social and emotional curriculum, specifically the units that address community rebuilding as a response to the pandemic,” said Dawn Cuccolo, Director of Student Personnel Services. “We are focusing on the themes of connection and inclusion throughout the school year as a part of our reopening plan, not just during the designated ‘Start with Hello’ week.”

The “Start with Hello” campaign, which was observed nationally from Sept. 21-25, encourages socially inclusive learning environments. The program isn’t new, but it took on added resonance as the pandemic changed or halted some routine group activities.

“Due to COVID-19, all students can empathize with the feelings of isolation due to physical and social distancing,” according to the Sandy Hook Promise website. “Loneliness is the overwhelming feeling of being left out, and social isolation is not having frequent interactions with friends. Young people who feel this way may pull away from society, struggle with learning and social development, or choose to hurt themselves or others.”

Kenilworth Schools continues to embrace the spirit of the program by making extra efforts to greet students and make all feel welcome. In preschool classes, for example, students dance to the “How Are You Today?” song during their morning meetings. It’s a fun activity, but it also serves as a social emotional check-in.

“I hope by committing to small efforts like saying hello to others, we'll be able to lead to the big realization that inclusion and connectivity matter,” said Superintendent Kyle Arlington.

During the official observation of the Sandy Hook Promise campaign, counseling staff members at David Brearley Junior-High School wrote “Start with Hello” sayings in sidewalk chalk at the student entrances. Messages included “We’re glad you’re here” and “Hello” in different languages. School counselors joined Brearley Principal Jeremy Davies in greeting students as they entered the building.

At Harding Elementary, teachers and other staff members greeted students at the doors to the school and classrooms. Morning announcements also encouraged the importance of saying “hello.”

Harding Principal Ron Bubnowski sent home a message that explained how students and parents could act on the intention of the “Start with Hello” program.

Students could make a change in just three steps: Seeing someone alone, then reaching out to help, starting with saying “hello.”

Parents who are concerned about their children feeling isolated could suggest calling or FaceTiming a friend; talking about their emotions; and participating in the many activities that are still “open” -- including reading, biking, drawing or playing outdoors.

In addition to the “Start with Hello” program, Kenilworth looked for other ways to expand social and emotional learning (SEL) in its schools. Each school has a designated response team charged with developing a system for identifying and supporting students in need. The district provides SEL support through a formal K-6 program called “Second Step,” and starting this year, it extended that program to grade 7. Kenilworth also contracted CarePlus to equip the schools with two licensed therapists who will work with students and faculty as needed.

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