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Fitch students urged to 'start with hello'

Groton — Sporting red tie-dye T-shirts, some of the 30 or so students in the Renaissance Crew roamed the Robert E. Fitch High School cafeteria, urging their classmates to "mix it up" and sit with new people.

They had conversation cards, with suggestions ranging from light topics like "Are you a cat person or a dog person?" to "What's your biggest fear?"

It proved a difficult task, with many students declining to sit elsewhere or lying that they already were sitting with people they didn't know. But it worked for some people, and senior Kah'ron Connor found it was more effective to ask someone to pick a friend and then move.

Casey Flax said it helps that between the Renaissance Crew members, they know most of the school population, while Daniella Morse commented on the diversity of the group.

The Renaissance Crew, which formed in the spring, is a positive group that acts as the school climate committee among students. From last Wednesday through this week, they have helped coordinate activities for "Start With Hello" Week.

Start with Hello is a Sandy Hook Promise program that "teaches children and teens how to be more socially inclusive and connected to each other."

Sandy Hook Promise is a grass-roots effort to protect kids from gun violence, and Mystic residents Gayle Oko and Katrina Fitzgerald formed a local chapter earlier this year.

Organizer Cindy Brayman said the idea is for the chapter to help schools find ways to implement the programs.

"Our stated goal is to have Sandy Hook Promise in every district in New London County," Brayman said, "and we'll continue to work on it as long as the need is there."

While the official Start with Hello Week was Sept. 24-28, the Renaissance Crew kicked off initiatives by handing out information on community resources at the open house last Wednesday.

The Renaissance Crew is part of Jostens Renaissance Education, a program through the yearbook company Jostens. The past two Fridays, students watched episodes of "The Harbor," a video series through Jostens, in their advisory period.

Teacher Casey Halliwell explained that the first episode was on judgment, with host Mike Smith talking about how he can be misjudged because of his skater vibe and tattoos.

Other initiatives at Fitch High School for Start with Hello Week included putting up a birthday wall for September and October, wearing green to remember those who died at Sandy Hook, and giving out Start with Hello bracelets. The Kindness Club has been coordinating the painting of positive messages on rocks, which will go in the school's rock garden.

Other Groton schools also have gotten involved with Start with Hello Week. At West Side Middle School, stories were read over the microphone as students filed into the cafeteria.

Classes at S.B. Butler Elementary School greeted one another in different languages at morning meetings, and teachers talked about acts of kindness.

A whole-school morning meeting at Claude Chester Elementary School involved celebration of the monthly theme of respect, and recognition of those who have demonstrated respect.


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