“Start With Hello” encourages kindness and inclusion at Birchwood

Birchwood Elementary School students were encouraged to connect with new classmates using kindness and inclusion. School social workers Stephanie France, LCSW and Bailey Pangman, LMSW engaged students in activities through a school-wide initiative called “Start With Hello.”

“Saying hello to someone new could make them feel happy,” fourth grader Cameron said.

“The program really helps to teach kids how to be upstanders and how to make a difference,” Pangman said. “I think that kids gained some comfort being able to make the first step to reach out to other kids, which I really think is the big difference. When they have that confidence, that awareness, they can take that first step and make a change.”

Students were encouraged to take that small, yet powerful step of “saying hello” to someone new, sit with a different classmate at lunch, ask someone if they need help or join someone sitting alone, among other examples.

“This week I learned to always be kind to people,” fourth grader Hera said. “It encouraged me to be friends with new people. I was nervous at first. Then it got easier.”

Birchwood transformed their main hallway bulletin board into the “Shine Wall”, where students provided examples of times they saw their peers “shine with kindness” or make a connection throughout the week.

“I think the kids really enjoyed learning about each other and understanding that it’s really important that we all make each other feel comfortable and safe here at school,” France said. “That is the responsibility of the students and of the staff.”

Start With Hello, part of the Sandy Hook Promise, brings attention to the growing epidemic of social isolation and empowers young people to create a culture of inclusion and connectedness within their school, youth organization, and community.

“I feel like we’ve made a difference this week and we hope to keep it up for the rest of the year,” France said.

Niskayuna High School High School Social Worker Allison L. Nunez, LCSW will host “Start With Hello” Week at the high school October 11-14.