SCOTCH PLAINS, N.J. -- Erin Biddle of Sandy Hook Promise delivered a powerful and eye-opening presentation on the warning signs of social isolation on Friday in the UC auditorium. The Start with Hello program teaches students how to make a difference in the lives of their peers in simple yet impactful ways and promotes connectedness and inclusion by identifying and helping students who may show signs of social isolation.
Presenter Erin Biddle started her career with Sandy Hook Promise after the shooting in Parkland, Florida when she volunteered to bring Sandy Hook Promise programs to her town. She went on to become a Promise Presenter in 2018, and is honored to bring life-changing programs to schools here in New Jersey and around the country.
In her presentation, Biddle first defined social isolation and led a discussion on the effects of isolation on young people. Biddle and students noted that isolated people may pull away from society, struggle with learning and social development, or choose to hurt themselves or others.
Students then engaged in a discussion on the difference between upstanders and bystanders and discussed upstander strategies, such as taking the first step to talk to someone, sitting with a new student at lunch, making someone laugh, noticing when someone is alone, and checking in on friends who have socially retreated. Students also learned to identify a trusted adult in their lives (e.g. a teacher, coach, tutor, counselor).
Social media was a part of the discussion, as well, as Biddle described ways in which viewing the social media profiles of others can influence the perspective of the self.
Biddle encouraged a three step process to making a difference that resonated with the students due to its relevance and simplicity. These steps are see someone alone, reach out and help, and start with hello.
The conversation then turned to effective icebreakers. Biddle identified the "What's your favorite?" question as an excellent icebreaker, and when she asked the students who their favorite superheroes are, the room erupted into lively conversation. Aquaman! Wonder Woman! Captain Marvel! Black Panther! Biddle used these activities as an experiment to prove just how simple it can be to start a conversation and encouraged students to use these icebreakers when necessary.
Biddle concluded the program by highlighting the SAVE Promise Club (Students Against Violence Everywhere), a club present at Union Catholic and in 48 states nationwide that promotes inclusion.
Freshman Job Emogene is thankful for the skills he acquired during this program.
"This presentation gave students the tools needed to make friends, give hope, and leave an impression on someone who may be struggling," said Emogene. "When I first came to Union Catholic, people were very welcoming. Students brought me to their table at lunch and made me feel included. This type of welcoming environment is needed and should be encouraged. I am happy to hear this presentation because it is an issue that sometimes isn't talked about enough."
Sophomore Esme Dorcellus found the program useful and relatable.
"I now realize how small actions such as saying hello can have a powerful impact on someone's life," said Dorcellus. "The presentation related to me personally because I find myself feeling some sort of social anxiety when I have to meet new people. It helped me realize that we're all in this together and that sometimes others feel the same as we do."
Junior Sam Roth reflected on the importance of violence awareness.
"This presentation brings awareness to a tragedy and brings people together to make sure tragedy will not happen to anyone else," said Roth. "Even when people are at their lowest points, sometimes all they need is that one person to change their lives."
Senior Leena Morant discussed the importance of knowing how to make others feel included.
"I've learned how to notice signs and signals of people that are pulling away from society and being left out," said Morant. "The presentation has also taught me how to reach out to someone who's feeling removed and isolated, such as how to start a conversation. Now I know how to assure others that they are loved and wanted."
For more information on the Start with Hello program, visit sandyhookpromise.org.