School district’s efforts to instill goodwill earns award

Photo Courtesy of Berkeley School
Berkeley Elementary School sixth-grader Ashley Ackom chalks up the playground during ‘Start with Hello Week,’ in September. The district has been nationally recognized for its effort to promote cooperation among students.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Bloomfield School District has been nationally recognized for its effort to stop bullying and violence through its implementation of “Start with Hello Week,” observed Sept. 24 to 28 in all Bloomfield schools.

The acknowledgement came Monday, Dec. 10, in an announcement by Sandy Hook Promise which initiated the program emphasising communication and friendship among school children. Bloomfield was awarded one of two grand prizes The nonprofit SHP was created by parents of children slain in the Dec. 14, 2012, attack on a Newtown, Conn. elementary school. For the award, the Bloomfield district submitted an application detailing its effort.

“This is a big deal for us,” said Bloomfield Director of Elementary Education Joseph Fleres, in a Dec. 13 telephone interview. “We were one of a few to start the program districtwide.”

Fleres, who is also the district school safety specialist, said adopting the program began with a group of supportive parents. School guidance counselors were responsible for establishing acts of consideration in the routine of a student’s day.
“Each school did something different,” Fleres said. “There were events, assemblies and student recognitions. All children participated, which I think was a big component in our being recognized.”

Having students start each day with a friendly hello fit into the district’s holistic approach to the well-being of the child, he said, and starting with an “hello” is only part of the Sandy Hook Promise program.

“It comes with a curriculum and suggestions,” he said. “We implemented it in bits and pieces with the Bloomfield touch.”
Fleres mentioned Carteret Elementary which had student greeters in classrooms. At other schools, volunteer parents and students wrote positive messages in chalk on sidewalks. During lunch at Bloomfield High School, students gave out mints for “encourage-mint.” And there were other activities, including positive announcements, by students, on the school speaker system.
“We were putting out positivity,” Fleres said.

Principals responded to the award.
Carteret Principal John Baltz said “Start with ‘Hello’ Week” was a simple, fun and easy way to start the day with positive messages.
“It promoted a culture of inclusion that values each individual student,” he said. “It was effective in getting our students to identify and help other students who may be struggling socially by simply extending a warm greeting each day.”
Baltz credited his guidance counselor Doreen Bauer for doing an excellent job.

Linda Colucci, the principal of the Early Childhood Learning Center at Forest Glen, said she was proud of the district. Her school stretched out “hello” to include the entire year.

“We have dedicated two walls to our ‘Wall of Kindness’ where everyone in the building has their handprints in green,” she said. “The preschoolers are reminded daily as they walk in that we are a building of helping hands.”

In response to the award announcement, Demarest Elementary Principal Mary Todaro said the message was very simply the importance of ensuring that students feel welcomed in a safe and nurturing environment. Berkeley Elementary Principal Natashia Baxter said that fostering inclusion and community is an important life skill.

“Start with Hello Week” has been a fantastic initiative,” she said. “Students engaged in activities to reduce social isolation and were empowered to create more inclusive classrooms.”

Brookdale Elementary Principal Lauren Barton said the award was a huge accomplishment.
“It reflects on all the hard work that was put into the program which allows all students to make an impact with their peers in an encouraging way,” she said.

Bloomfield Middle School Principal Ally Vada-Manzo said her school always works diligently to provide a positive and safe learning environment.

“It is humbling to be recognized for those efforts by a great organization such as Sandy Hook Promise,” she said. “We look forward to involving student organizations in sustaining this effort.”

The district effort had a large social media presence relating to the week and Fleres thought this was a determining factor in receiving the award.
“School safety has many components,” he said. “The social and emotional well-being of students having a positive experience and feeling comfortable will lead to a more productive day.”

For its efforts, Bloomfield will receive a plaque, a cash prize and a stipend to travel to the annual SAVE Summit in April, in North Carolina, to share its experiences with the program. Fleres said he will work on presenting the Bloomfield School District as a model for other districts.

The acronym SAVE stands for Students Against Violence Everywhere. SAVE Promise is an organization promoting school safety. It was established in 1987 and has partnered with Sandy Hook Promise.

A second grand prize winner went to Madeira Beach Fundamental, Madeira Beach, Fla. Schools and school districts in North Carolina, California, New York, Delaware and Mississippi were also recognized. Grand Prize winners will receive a personal visit by a Sandy Hook Promise co-founder.

Superintendent of Schools Sal Goncalves said it was a great honor to receive an award from the nation’s leading gun-violence prevention organization.

“We continue to offer a holistic approach to security in our district and this award demonstrates our commitment to keeping our students safe,” he said. “On behalf of the Bloomfield Board of Education and the administration, we are pleased to receive this recognition.”

Fleres was especially grateful to parent Angie Koeneker for her assistance in establishing “Start with ‘Hello’ Week.”
“She heads the parents group and has been working with me from day No. 1,” he said. “Her dedication to this was phenomenal. We moved forward together to make sure this initiative is sustainable.”