This story appeared in the March 7, 2018 edition of the Cortland Standard. To become a subscriber, email us, or call us at (607) 756-5665. Back issues available by request.
MORAVIA — The image lives still with Jenna Powers, a Moravia High School senior. The words, too, bullying words.
“I was walking in the hallway and I saw a couple of kids say something to a girl I had known and I really wanted to say something and I didn’t,” Powers said.
Later, she decided she had to make up for that.
She and a friend and fellow National Honor Society member Madelyn Funk approached high school Guidance Counselor Shannon Taylor. They brainstormed ideas about how to end bullying in the school.
It was a coincidence, but a couple of weeks later, in January, Taylor got an email from the Sandy Hook Promise, asking schools to participate in “Start with Hello” week, which takes place Feb. 5 to Feb. 9.
Taylor approached Powers and Funk about the idea and they were happy to offer suggestions.
They decided to start a number of initiatives to get people to reach out to people they usually wouldn’t associate with — icebreakers and presentations to think about other people. The focus of the “Start with Hello” campaign is to create a culture that stops the social isolation that could lead students to feeling unwanted and angry and perhaps lead them to perpetrate acts of violence, according to the website www.sandyhookpromise.org.
The initiative is a prevention program started by families who lost loved ones in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012.
The week in Moravia included assemblies, student-led presentation, posters, pledges and even post-it notes with uplifting messages. A day was dedicated to make sure no student sat alone during lunch.
Powers and Taylor saw students interacting with others who they usually wouldn’t bother with, something they found hopeful.
“Maybe some people might have made new friends, I’m not sure,” she said.
But the effort isn’t a one-week thing; it’s ongoing. Powers plans another week during the school year devoted strictly to anti-bullying messages, though she is not sure when.
“I would love to build on it next year, but feel that if we even reached one student or made a connection amongst any students then we were successful,” Taylor said via email.
Moravia High School Principal Bryan Ford said the Start with Hello campaign was a reflection of the district’s culture, and he’s proud that the idea came from students.
“It’s a tight-knit community and the kids genuinely seem to care,” he said. “At the end of the day, connecting kids is the best solution for trying to end the concerns about school violence.”