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Hillsborough High School student government members introduce the Start with Hello program on Tuesday, Feb. 6.

Start with Hello, one word that can make a tremendous difference

February 08, 2018 - Points of Pride


Decades ago, Thomas Edison cemented that word’s legacy as the standard telephone greeting. Years later, Lionel Richie sang a song of the same name. Adele followed with her own chart topper.


An easy word to say … but not for everyone.

Some young people struggle with communicating. They’re lonely, isolated, wrestling with depression, combating inner struggles. Sometimes, those battles manifest themselves in horrible, violent and often preventable ways.

That’s the crux behind Start with Hello, a program introduced Tuesday at Hillsborough High School and expected to expand to other Hillsborough County schools in the coming months.

Start with Hello is part of Sandy Hook Promise, an initiative formed after the December 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. Twenty students and six adults died that day, including first-grader Dylan Hockley.

His mother, Nicole, held a photo of Dylan on Tuesday as she addressed an auditorium of Hillsborough students.

“This is about you,” she said, urging students to make connections with one another. “It really does start with hello.”

Sherese James of Sandy Hook Promise challenged students to be nicer in 2018. It’s easy to bully, to joke or to “throw shade,” she told students. But when millions of students face feelings of isolation and quiet suffering, she said, “Every. Single. Day,” it’s essential for young people to become the “first line of defense” for improving the way they treat one another.

Sophomore Anthony Allen, a student government member, told his classmates “Change must come and it starts with our generation.”

James encouraged students to remember three steps, which were on the back of T-shirts given to all of Hillsborough’s ninth-grade students.

Step 1: See someone alone – not just someone sitting by himself or herself once or twice, but someone who is chronically disconnected

Step 2: Reach out and help – take the first steps (literally toward the person)

Step 3: Start with hello – the perfect word to spark a conversation

From there, James said, talk about pretty much anything. The weather. Which restaurant has better chicken nuggets. Their shoes. Just something. James said 8 in 10 young people are afraid to start conversations, but also that 8 in 10 are glad that they did.

Hockley said the program may sound simple, but that it legitimately holds the potential to change lives.

“The best programs are the easiest one,” she said, because students can remember them.

More than 4,000 schools across the country are expected to hold Start with Hello events this week, with the aim of improving mental health and reducing the number of teen suicides and acts of violence. Hillsborough senior Amari Pyatt told her classmates, “We don’t want to wait until it’s too late or until we’re asking, ‘What could we have done differently?’

Stefanie Zimmerman, Hillsborough’s student government sponsor, said she expects her students to organize some Hello-related activities in the coming weeks. Some of the suggestions included a “nametag day,” socials or a “no one eats alone day.”

It’s likely many of those conversations would start with a familiar salutation.


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