Sandy Hook Promise volunteers encourage students to Start With Hello

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  • Watching the stage, students wear their "Start With Hello" t-shirts.

  • Facing the crowd, Sherise James talks about preventative measures that can be taken to prevent future tragedies.

  • Standing on stage, Nicole Hockley and principle Gary Brady begin the presentation.

  • Listening with intent, students watch as Nicole Hockley gives account of the Sandy Hook tragedy.

  • Giving her speech, Emily Quinn speaks to crowd.

  • Holding a photo of her son Dylan Hockley, Nicole Hockley speaks about her loss in the Sandy Hook tragedy.

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This past Tuesday, Feb. 6, freshmen gathered in the auditorium to kick off Start With Hello, a program started by the Sandy Hook Promise organization. Founded by parents of victims of the elementary school shooting in Newtown, CT, the goal of the Start With Hello movement is to end isolation that can lead to violence within schools.

When Evelyn Hernandez heard that the county was offering a grant for schools to kick start this program for the county. “We are the first school in Hillsborough county public schools so we are kicking it off for other schools,” Hernandez said. “I so believe in decreasing isolation within schools.”

Start With Hello promotes student-led activities prevent shootings like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Representative of SGA, Anthony Allen spoke about the meaning of the assembly in light of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. “I thought about how this could happen to me and also my little brother at any time,” he said. “Therefore I believe Start With Hello could’ve prevented this from happening with just one person asking [the shooter] about himself, just one person talking to him about anything.”

Nicole Hockley, one of the co-founders of the Sandy Hook Promise, spoke about her son Dylan, one of the 26 Sandy Hook victims.

“It was one of his repetitive movements. Whenever he was excited or happy we would jump up and down and would flap his arms around,” Hockley said almost getting lost in the picture she held of him. “I asked him one day ‘why do you flap?’ and I really didn’t expect him to answer because he had a lot of speech delays but he looked at me and said ‘because I’m a beautiful butterfly.’”

She paused for a moment. Then continued.

“I started talking at his funeral about butterflies and about how there’s that theory that a butterfly flapping his wing on one side of the world can cause or prevent a hurricane on the other side,” Hockley said. “I talked about Dylan and others that lost their lives as being butterflies and being that change across our country to create something good, to create something positive for others.”

She told the audience of over 500 freshmen that Dylan was her reason for talking to them.

“I know you’re the ones who are going to make the difference,” she said. “It seems so simple, and you really never know the impact you’re going to have on someone’s life after that one simple act. It’s not something you can measure, but trust me you are making a difference just by reaching out.”

Sherese James of Sandy Hook Promise took the stage after Hockley and provided examples of how students can reach out. She discussed instances that can make someone feel alone, followed by icebreakers.

One of the icebreakers was a game called My Shoe where you tell someone everywhere your shoe goes. Freshman Natalia Hess thought the game was a fun way to make friendships. “It is such an easy way to get to know someone.” she said.

James continued to share actions that can make someone feel included. She broke the process down to three steps: 1. See someone alone, 2. Reach out and help and 3. Start with hello.

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