BLOOMFIELD, NJ — This week, Bloomfield schools have been recognizing, “Start with ‘Hello’ Week,” a national movement begun by Sandy Hook Promise, an organization whose mission is to prevent gun-related injuries and deaths of children. According to its website, several board members of Sandy Hook Promise are parents whose offspring were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting incident, Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown, Conn.
Recognition of “Start with ‘Hello’ Week” was initiated in Bloomfield by Joe Fleres, the district director of elementary education. In an email, he said discussions began last year on what township schools would do. The week is designated Sept. 24-28 by Sandy Hook Promise.
“The premise was the school district’s holistic approach to student safety and well-being,” he said. “I was lucky enough to have a very positive and involved group of parents who also believed in the core message of Sandy Hook Promise “Start With ‘Hello’” initiative. They have helped this dream become a reality for our students, staff, and community.”
Fleres gave special recognition to parent Angie Koeneker. School guidance counselors took the lead in promoting the initiative at their schools.
At Watsessing Elementary School, guidance counselor Pamela Catalano coordinated the activities to promote inclusion and positive behavior.
She said Watsessing students were instructed to reach out to classmates — maybe the quiet boy or girl who thinks they go unnoticed — and acknowledge what is special about them. Second-grade teacher Laura Foster helped spread the word, literally. She started each morning with an inspirational quote over the school’s speaker system.
A primary focus for starting out right are the doorways. They were being especially decorated. One particular door at Watsessing, opposite the main office, had cut out paper hands encircling it. These were made by students outlining their own hands. Every child also received a green bead — the color of Sandy Hook Elementary School — as a reminder to offer a friendly greeting or gesture of friendship to a classmate. Activities included discussions on how students could help each other.
Each classroom chose a positive theme for the week, such as laughing, kindness and cooperation. And every day a student “greeter” was responsible for saying hello to classmates entering the room and giving them a high-five. Students in the lower grades read, “What I Like About Me,” by Allia Zobel Nolan, and children learned new ways to say “hello.” These expressions were to be used for the week. Students in the upper grades wrote compliments for the classmates sitting around them.
“We don’t want this for just one week,” Watsessing Principal Gina Rosamilia said of the positive attitudes. “We want it all the time.”
At Oak View Elementary, the week began with an assembly informing the children of the meaning of the week.
“We impressed upon our students that another student at lunch and recess should never be ‘alone’ unless they choose to be,” Principal Mary DiTrani said in an email.
On Tuesday, Oak View students sat at different lunch tables making new friends and on Wednesday they were encouraged to perform two acts of kindness.
“On Thursday, sixth-graders will spend recess with the kindergarten students introducing themselves and playing with them,” DiTrani said.
Fist-bumping was to be the order of the day on Friday.
At the Early Childhood Center, at Forest Glen, its home and school association decorated the front door. “Many of our classrooms went outside and added to the ‘Welcome Mat’ created by our parents,” Principal Linda Colucci said in an email about chalked messages. “And we have begun a ‘Helping Hand’ mural in our lobby. Our week is focusing on kindness and helping.”
At Demarest Elementary, Principal Mary Todaro said the week was an antidote to feelings of isolation.
“We know children perform better when they feel respected, safe and valued,” she said in an interview at her school. “Of course, we don’t want violence. But if children feel they belong, there is less chance for conflict.”
On Monday, Demarest students were instructed to say hello to five new people.
“Everyone has a name tag,” Todaro said.
On Tuesday, “Human Bingo” was scheduled. In this game, squares on a piece of paper were to be filled with a classmate’s name when they like the same thing as another student.
But the schedule had to be shuffled around because rain was forecasted. Demarest children were scheduled to go outside Wednesday to form a human heart. But that was rescheduled for Thursday and Wednesday was devoted to an indoor activity — complimenting classmates. On Friday, students will take to the school intercom and declare what made the week special for them.
At Franklin Elementary, students pledged to never let anyone sit or play alone during recess. At Brookdale Elementary, students wrote positive messages in chalk on the playground surface.
In an email, Carteret Principal John Baltz said the child who is “left out” feels invisible.
“At every school and in every community there are children who feel like they have no friends and quietly suffer through each day,” he said.
“Young people who are isolated can become a victim of bullying, violence and/or depression. As a result, many pull away further from society, struggle with learning and social development and/or choose to hurt themselves or others.”
At Carteret Elementary, included in the activities was a poster contest. Its theme was that every friendship starts with someone saying “hello.” Classes with the winning entries were to be rewarded with that all-time champ of smiles and icebreakers — a pizza party.