District gets national honors for ‘Start with Hello’ program

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Bloomfield School District was recognized by a national organization on Feb. 22 for its embrace of “Start with Hello Week,” a program taking place Sept. 24 to 28 of last year that emphasised communication and friendship among school children.

The organization was Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit created by parents of children slain in the Dec. 14, 2012, attack on a Newtown, Conn. elementary school.

The award presentation was at Bloomfield High School before an audience of students. Speaking to them, Superintendent of Schools Sal Goncalves said in his long career he had received many awards, but there was none more important than one recognizing caring and empathy “because we are all one.”

Goncalves emphasised the oneness of Bloomfield cultural diversity calling it “a culture of respect and love — that’s what Bloomfield is all about. That’s why this award is so important.”

Director of Elementary Curriculum Joseph Fleres thanked SHP with providing a curriculum to follow. For “Start with Hello Week,” school principals and guidance counselors took the lead in how to implement the program. Fleres, as he had in a previous acknowledgement of the award, thanked parent Angie Koeneker for coming to him with an idea that sparked a movement leading to the award. Principals and guidance counselors, he said, did a Herculean task. He thanked his audience of students for making the Sandy Hook Promise a promise kept.

The award was presented by Mark Barden, a co-founder and managing director of SHP. His son Daniel was killed in the assault. He showed a photo of the boy and recalled learning from his teachers how caring his son was with other students. As a parent, Barden said there was nothing more important to learn about your child.

He said it was a horrible experience for a student to be isolated, but the power Bloomfield students bring to other students can change a person’s life. Other schools will look to Bloomfield to see how the Sandy Hook Promise is kept, he said. Barden held up the winner’s plaque which is would be presented to Goncalves.

“There are some schools that have done some amazing things, but you guys won it,” he said.
In a telephone interview earlier this week, Fleres said he contacted SHP offering to have the Bloomfield School District serve as an “ambassador” and advise other school districts wishing to implement a successful campaign.
“I would tell any district to dive in,” Fleres said. “Don’t do it in pockets or just in individual schools. Doing it in all schools was the best thing for us. It’s a full-community investment.”

Because “Start with Hello Week” is in September, he said guidance counselors will meet during the summer with him to consider possible ways to keep the program going. It will again be supported by Koeneker and her parental group.
“After receiving the award, the conversations kicked in,” he said.