Start With Hello

Students participate in a week-long event dedicated to teaching empathy and empowering students to end social isolation.


Students and faculty dressed in green to support Sandy Hook Promise for the theme Be Kind!

     Even small things can catalyze the biggest of events–a simple hello can mark the beginning of a beautiful friendship. 

Social isolation is a real problem in our society today, and the first step in

     Notre Dame prides itself on creating a warm and welcoming environment for all of its students, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made that a challenging proposition. 

     “Start with Hello” Week, a program started by the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation in 2016,  “teaches students to be more socially inclusive and connected to each other.” 

     The Sandy Hook Promise Foundation was created after the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in 2012. Their mission is “to end school shootings and create a culture change that prevents violence and other harmful acts that hurt children. Through our proven, evidence-informed Know the Signs programs and sensible, bipartisan school and gun safety legislation, we teach young people and adults to recognize, intervene, and get help for individuals who may be socially isolated and/or at risk of hurting themselves or others.”

     The organization’s foundations in Newtown, Connecticut have not prevented the spread of the program to all over the country. Schools from New York to Ohio are all participants of Start With Hello Week. Over 23,000 schools, including Notre Dame participate in Sandy Hook Promise programs and support their effort to reduce violence and create a more inclusive school environment and community. 

     From September 20 to September 24, Notre Dame participated in activities designed to promote inclusion and create community.

Monday’s activity was “Say Hello.” Students were given name tags in five different colors and over the course of the day, when students came across others with a matching color name tag they could introduce themselves or simply say hello. Many students took this opportunity to greet other students and meet new people.

     Tuesday everyone played “Human Bingo.” At the beginning of the day, each student received a bingo sheet that they had to fill out with signatures from people who fit the description in the box. Boxes were filled with phrases from “someone who wears glasses” to “someone who is a twin.” 

     On Wednesday, students wore green, one of the colors of Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was also a day for spreading positive messages. During breaks, ASB distributed post-it notes for students to write compliments or nice messages about their classmates and stick these notes on them. 

     On Thursday, the quad was bustling with students. Notre Dame students shared their diversity by placing a pin indicating their place of origin on a large map of the world. By the end of the day, hundreds of colorful pins marked where students and their families originated from. 

     At the end of the week, a Zoom school day, students were encouraged to share a “rose” (a positive experience) from their week. Roses ranged from good things that happened to something they enjoyed and positive experiences were shared all throughout. 

     The Sandy Hook Promise Foundation strives for safer school environments, one where students feel included, confident, and comfortable. To prevent tragedies that happen so often, especially in America today, the organization places emphasis on noticing the signs and paying attention to what is happening around them.

     These three steps could help create an environment where everyone feels safe and included:

Step 1: Learn how to recognize the signs of loneliness and social isolation. Notice when people are alone.

Step 2: Find out what you can do to help others feel included. Reach out to those who are isolated.

Step 3: Discover how to break the ice and strike up a conversation. Just say “Hello.”

     An article published in Edutopia offered the following shocking statistics: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a detrimental impact on many students’ mental health. In a May 2020 survey, seven out of 10 teens reported mental health struggles, 61 percent said they had experienced an increase in feelings of loneliness, 43 percent said they had experienced depression, and 55 percent said they had experienced anxiety.”   

     We must pay attention to the people around us because we do have the power to effect change in people’s lives. Learning how to identify at-risk behaviors and safely intervening is crucial in saving lives.

     We are the ones who can make a difference and take steps towards a better school culture and environment. We should strive to become a supportive community, so start by making those around you feel safe. Start with a compliment. Start with a smile. Start with a hello.