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MHHS Assistant Principal Mrs. Story spent time reading The Invisible Boy to students in preparation for “Start with Hello” week. Photo by Ryan Ragan

The elementary students at Consolidated School, from preschool to second grade, are beginning to work with a new initiative this week called “Start with Hello”. A program that is focused on social inclusivity, “Start with Hello” includes effective ideas and practices that can be incorporated for all students–from the youngest learners through the high school years and beyond.

Stemming from Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit that was created in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, “Start with Hello’s” fundamental stance is rooted in the notion that fostering inclusion can prevent social isolation and help people connect. Through activities such as role playing, art, and games, students learn tactics for managing a range of social interactions, from conversation starters to talking candidly about bullying.

Kindness initiatives have been a focus at Consolidated School for years, and that will continue with this rolling program that only begins this week. Assistant Principal Karen Gruetzner explained the particular activities that the students will engage in this week, “Every classroom with be reading the book The Invisible Boy. This will launch deeper conversations throughout the week about feeling left out and how important it is that we include everyone in play and social interactions.”

Ms. Gruetzner went on to say, “All this week, during Morning Meetings, classes will engage in activities where they learn about giving a compliment, asking questions to get to know someone better, and using icebreakers to start a conversation. They will also discover things they have in common with their classmates.”

Superintendent Dr. Pat Cosentino has worked with the program previously in other districts and says, “It is a wonderful way of promoting inclusiveness of all students in our schools.” Dr. Cosentino pointed out that, “a smile and a kind word always go a long way to break down barriers and promote a positive climate.”

Going forward, Consolidated School will continue their efforts. “This is more than just a one-week initiative; this is an ongoing effort in our building. We work hard to maintain an inclusive school with strong classroom communities,” Ms. Gruetzner says. She pointed out that, “Consolidated School is recognized as a Kind Campus and we celebrate acts of kindness daily. We are so proud of our staff and students for making this a priority, as we believe a sense of belonging is instrumental to a positive school experience and learning!”

Not limited to the younger set, “Start with Hello” is also launching in the district’s other schools. Dr. Cosentino explained that she thinks all “…the New Fairfield students will benefit as we work the program into other SEL [social-emotional learning] programs at our schools.”

By Sarah Opdahl