Start with "hello."
That's the message about 150 Pasco County middle and high school student leaders received Tuesday as the district rolled out Sandy Hook Promise as a way to reduce bullying and increase campus safety.
"A lot of times, it starts before it gets to violence," presenter Dalhia Perryman told the students. "We just need to be nicer to one another."
Maybe if the Sandy Hook Elementary shooter felt like he had friends, or someone he could have turned to, perhaps he would not have done what he did in 2012, Perryman speculated.
Every day, millions of people feel suffering and isolated, she said — sometimes in a crowded room. In school, students can create connectedness by reaching out to someone who's alone and starting a conversation.
You just might be making your next best friend, Perryman said, offering ice breakers such as talking about favorites, or even just writing a nice note.
Pine View Middle School piloted the "Start With Hello" model in September. Principal Jennifer Warren said it gave students a purpose, even if just for a moment, to stop and think about how they interact with others.
Eighth grader Aryanne McNeff said the weeklong event helped her find new ways to start conversations with people she doesn't know. A lot of times, Aryanne said, students in her school don't compliment one another and just keep to themselves.
"Even if it helps at least one person, that makes it important enough for all schools to try," she said.
Land O'Lakes High senior class president Jacob Garcia agreed, saying the Sandy Hook Promise brought a good message that can help bring Pasco County together.
"Saying hello can really change a lot," Garcia said. "This could definitely be effective. I feel like people should be nice to everybody they meet."
Melissa Musselwhite, student services director for Pasco schools, said every middle and high school is expected to begin working on some aspect of Sandy Hook Promise. The student leaders are scheduled to meet again in January to discuss their action plans.