SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Lonely. Sad. Ignored. Alone. Excluded. Bullied. Frustrated.
That's how fourth grade students at Brunner School responded to the question: “What does the word isolation mean anything to you?”
The hour-long session included special guests Superintendent Dr. Joan Mast, Scotch Plains Mayor Al Smith, Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, whose three sons all attended Brunner, and Rev. Susanna Cates from All Saints Episcopal Church.
Presenters provided suggestions of what to do if they see a classmate who seems to be alone.
“If you see someone alone, walk over and say hello. Someone can feel alone even though they are with others,” said Principal Scott Bortnick. “If someone isn't talking or engaging, maybe that's when you reach out and say hello. It can feel weird, but they might be sitting there wanting you to come up to them."
The children heard suggestions of things they could do to help.
- Sit with someone.
- Ask them to join in.
- Wave and smile.
- Give a simple gesture.
- Leave a handwritten note.
“We can change the world by saying hello,” Dr. Mast told the fourth graders. “You have really inspired me today.”
Mayor Smith, who encouraged the SPFK12 school district to introduce The Sandy Hook Promise “Start with Hello” program to raise awareness about social isolation and how to prevent it, found the session personally rewarding.
“This is one of the best days of my life to see these kids come together like this,” said Mayor Al Smith, who read a book to the children. “Hopefully they will become a lifelong family and live together as a community.”
"You have to give Mayor Smith a lot of credit for being a champion of Sandy Hook Promise," said Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr. "He has really made it a focus to bring this to the schools. In light of all the gun violence in the schools, the idea of not wanting children to feel isolated is simple, yet powerful. He deserves a lot of credit."
Reverend Cates of All Saints Episcopal Church said that she is inspired to organize a community-outreach program designed for Park Middle School students.
“We are right across the street. I’d like to do is to have program like this as a (non faith-based) program for the community,” said Rev. Cates. “I think it's important to make friends and establish lasting relationships.”
Sandy Hook Promise is a national non-profit organization founded and lead by several family members whose loved ones were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012.
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