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‘Start With Hello Program’ takes cue from Sandy Hook Elementary School


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Taking its cue from Sandy Hook Elementary School, Nashoba Valley Technical High School has initiated a gun-violence prevention program called “Start with Hello.”

The idea behind the program is to reduce the chance of gun violence by breaking down social barriers and adopting a culture of inclusion for all students, especially those who tend to be loners.

“Start with Hello” originated in Newtown, Conn., site of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 by a socially isolated 20-year-old that claimed the lives of 20 students and six educators. The mother of one of the slain children decided to initiate a program to combat social isolation.

Nashoba Tech is one of close to 1,000 schools in the United States to adopt “Start with Hello,” the premise of which is simple: to identify and reach out to socially isolated students, and perhaps prevent the next Sandy Hook.

Nashoba Tech teachers Donna McMahon, Theresa Ristaino and Emily Smith started the school’s chapter.

“I loved the idea of being part of building a culture of connectedness and raising awareness of social isolation in our school,” McMahon said. “We do a good job with that already, but I think we can all do more — students included — to support our students and to reduce their risk of being victims of bullying, violence and depression.”

During Start with Hello Week, Feb. 6-10, dozens of student “ambassadors” lined the halls of Nashoba Tech at the beginning and end of school to greet students and then wish them a good night. It’s a small step toward making students feel more a part of the school. The ambassadors have also pledged to be more aware of socially isolated students and perhaps sit with them during lunch break.

“‘Have a good night’ could be the most positive thing a kid hears all day long,” said Kyla Callahan, director of student services.

Nashoba Tech’s “Start with Hello” student ambassadors are:

Ashby: Jacob Dow (senior).

Ayer: Rheanna Early (senior), Benjamin Richard (senior).

Billerica: Benjamin Petersen (senior).

Chelmsford: Alysa Alvarado (senior), Joseph Baker (junior), Michael Foley (senior), Katherine Martin (junior), Grace McDonnell (sophomore), Victoria Parlee (junior), Ashley Whiting (sophomore).

Groton: Aidan Luth (sophomore), Jared Smith (junior).

Littleton: Jenna Thompson (junior).

Pepperell: Brendan Cerone (junior), Jordan Hasbrouck (junior), Cassandra Koeleman (senior), Rebeka LaRosae (senior), Kaitlyn May (sophomore), Arianna Patenaude (junior), Taylor Rajaniemi (senior), Eliott Searle (sophomore), Chloe Sherwood (junior), Olivia Spoth (sophomore).

Shirley: Kameron Adams (junior), Brianna Finnegan (sophomore), Megan Harding (junior), Elizabeth Pinard (junior),

Townsend: Gabriella Agliata (sophomore), Vanessa Agliata (senior), Marc Kelly (sophomore).

Tyngsborough: Karl Gauntlett (senior).

Westford: Angela Constantine (junior), Garrett Filiatrault (junior), Edward Landers (sophomore).