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Does ‘Hello’ help?

By Delaney Staples, Assistant Editor

“Start with Hello Week,” a week dedicated to creating a socially inclusive environment for the students at lunch time and throughout the day, was implemented here Sept. 24-28.

It didn’t work.

“Even though we had a program to help us make new friends, people stayed mostly with their regular groups,” said sophomore Eden Wright, although she did mention having seen fewer people sitting alone that day.

The program was started by Sandy Hook Promise organization, which formed after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 with the purpose of lowering the threat of school violence, like the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, by trying to eliminate social isolation.

“Start with Hello” works to help students interact by having a week where students wear name tags and try to sit with people who may be sitting alone, or simply sitting with different people in general. But did this really happen?

Teenagers — like adults — naturally arrange themselves into cliques. Because of this mindset, people find it harder to leave their cliques and speak to someone new or to be addressed by an “outsider” without feeling  annoyed or offended.

“For people that don’t need it, it’s just really weird,” senior David Dunham said. “The only way these programs are effective are if people want to, and a lot of times they don’t.”

The conception people have in their heads when coming up to someone who is sitting alone to begin a conversation, is that it will be awkward.

“It’s hard and weird to branch out and sit with someone else even though it’s what we should do,” Wright said.

Our generation is also growing up during a time with advancing technology. The majority of kids and teens have a phone or access to an electronic device.

“Kids are so absorbed in electronics, they haven’t learned how to deal with other people,” tech teacher David Holley said. “The studies have shown that social media has made people feel lonelier, more disconnected.”

“It depends on the people,” says Eden Wright.

“A lot of people don’t have home training,” Mr. Holley said, and because of this, kids will learn most social behavior outside of home.

The implementation of programs like these are “good in theory but not really in practice,” as Dunham said. The idea of creating a more socially inclusive environment to help others feel safe and accepted is great, and if the world could be like that, then school violence would certainly be less common. It isn’t that the world can’t be like that, but that the people on it choose not to try.

“Nice people are gonna be nice, not nice people are gonna be not nice,” Holley said.

And not everyone who sits alone is lonely. Some sit alone by choice, isolating themselves, and maybe that’s better for them, but what if one day that person in the back decides they want to come forward, but realizes they have no one to come forward to? The feeling can be crushing.

The change these programs do bring is subtle and gradual, if any at all.

“Better than not doing anything I suppose,”  Holley said. From his point of view, even if the mechanics of the programs don’t directly make an impact, the message being spread serves as a reminder. It serves as a reminder of what can be done and that it is possible to reach out.

All in all, these programs aren’t typically effective as the students aren’t always receptive or they choose not to implement them. “Start with Hello” barely made a dent into the rigid social structure of the high school environment, but there are other things that can be done.

The way to theoretically eliminate school violence is to create open channels of communication between people. Make it so that if someone sees something, they can say something and speak up. A way to do this would be for teachers to take a more active role by making themselves open to the students and stopping bullying or negative conduct when any signs appear.

“Like Mr. Nagy doesn’t take any of that. If he sees even a student messing with another student he shuts that right down,” Dunham said.

Another way could be to have small groups. Small groups would be something akin to mentoring but less guided and freer. Groups of students, perhaps from various grades and ages, would meet once a week or every other week to talk about the stresses of school and/or home life.

The primary repercussion of this would be that “you’re still forcing people to sit in a room and talk,” as Dunham said, when conversation should come more naturally and happen on its own. But teens struggle to do that, whether it be because electronics have damaged us and limited our knowledge of social navigation or be for fear of not getting acceptance and validation. Perhaps what is needed is for us to be forced to talk to each other. Force us to notice each other.

Yes, that’s what Start with Hello Week was trying to do, though it didn’t truly work. Perhaps if more staff and students had supported it or tried to monitor it,, it would have made a bigger impact.

The creation of a more open environment could be critical to making social isolation a rarity rather than a common thing. But it takes more than a week.

“This is how school shootings happen, like, nobody talks,” Wright said.

People need to talk with each other and feel safe doing so, but “Start with Hello” didn’t do much but create a small ripple in a storming sea.

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