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'Start With Hello' program even more important during pandemic, Pinellas school leaders say

Posted at 4:59 PM, Sep 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-23 17:39:49-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Pinellas County School students are on a mission to prevent school violence by making an effort to say hello and include everyone.

Students have spent time making music videos, painting murals and decorating masks as part of the “Start With Hello” program, which was designed by parents whose children died in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

The idea is to prevent violence and bullying by making sure students aren’t left out.

Madeira Beach Fundamental School students tell us it can make a big difference.

8th grader Sania Memon has advice for kids and adults to make everyone feel included.

“You should definitely go say hi to someone you don’t know and just say hello, talk to them and maybe you guys can be better friends and maybe that person is going through a tough time and you can help them too,” she said with a smile.

7th grader Ethan Santos also says the program is important to him.

“You can have an impact on someone’s day and you know they might go and do it to someone else and it maybe makes their day just a little bit better.”

This year, school leaders tell us the program is even more important as kids are forced to spread apart and wear masks at school to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“It is cool to come onto a campus and feel an excitement, an energy and a positivity in the air. It’s a great vibe,” said Madeira Beach Fundamental Principal Chris Ateek.

Pinellas County District leaders say one word “hello” is powerful enough to help a student who feels lonely and isolated feel welcomed. As part of the Sandy Hook Promise, students across Pinellas County Schools are supporting classmates by spreading kindness to help break down these barriers of social isolation and promote inclusion.