In all actuality, I didn’t understand how well they were going to absorb it,” says Angela Pitts, multi-tiered system support coordinator at Azalea Elementary School and sponsor of Azalea’s SAVE Club. In February, the school became one of three in the southeast region to win the “Start With Hello” award from the Sandy Hook Promise, an organization promoting the creation of a more inclusive and connected school community. Even as Pitts led the charge toward rolling out SHP’s Start With Hello program and guiding her students toward the creation of an award winning video, she still came away surprised at how deeply her students took the program’s message to heart and made it a reality in their community.
“That was the biggest ‘aha moment’ that I had over the entire thing,” she added, “was how powerful the students are.”
“Start With Hello” is a program that includes an interactive storybook, videos, activities and projects to help students build empathy, healthy relationships and social awareness. The curriculum includes activities and lesson plans that can be used to teach students the skills they need to create a culture of inclusion in their school and community. Students at Azalea Elementary organized the SAVE Promise Club from Sandy Hook Promise to help spread empathy using three steps: See Someone Alone, Reach Out and Help, Start with Hello. With leadership from faculty members like Pitts, fifth grade students teach these steps through engaging school activities that build empathy and empower students. The club’s video showed how the word, “Hello,” builds community, breaks barriers and helps prevent school violence.
“I never in a million years thought that we would win the award,” Pitts says as she starts to talk about how the students contributed ideas to the rollout of the Start With Hello program. “But I was amazed at how the students sustained what they’d learned, how they included the other kids, and how they were able to facilitate conversations. It was really powerful.”