Sandy Hook Promise Launches New Online Course with Disney to Fight Social Isolation at School

By Henry Kronk
September 03, 2019

After a summer that saw a high volume of mass-shootings, school is back in session. While many stakeholders are on edge and working to beef up security, one group is hoping to effect change with a positive message. Sandy Hook Promise, a group formed by family members of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, has released an online version of their popular program Start with Hello, with support from Disney. The initiative seeks to combat social isolation and encourage interpersonal relationships among kids.

The program is intended for students between 2nd and 12th grade and is offered to schools for free. The latest online version has been curated specifically for elementary school students.

Sandy Hook Promise Brings Start with Hello Online with Help from Disney

Start with Hello launched for middle and high schoolers in 2016 as an in-person program. Following its popularity, it has continued to expand.

The online version was made possible thanks to a donation of an undisclosed amount made by Disney in January of this year. Disney and Sandy Hook Promise have a goal to reach 2.8 million students in 6,000 schools over the next three years.

“We’ve had tremendous demand for more Start With Hello training in elementary schools and, thanks to Disney, we were able to develop a new platform for this program that helps young kids better understand how to look out for one another,” said Sandy Hook Promise co-founder and Managing Director Nicole Hockley, in a news release. Her son, Dylan, was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012. “We believe that the earlier we can tackle social isolation and create connections among students, the more ‘upstanders’ we can empower to keep schools and communities safe from violence,” Hockley said.

Stakeholders have increasingly begun to identify social isolation as a phenomenon in American schools that leads to negative outcomes down the line. Some research has indicated that young people especially feel lonely at much higher rates than others.

Start with Hello hopes to instill students with a means to connect with their peers who might be feeling isolated. The program asks students to go through three steps in the process: “1) See Someone Alone; 2) Reach Out and Help; and 3) Start with Hello.”

Fighting Social Isolation in School

The new online program includes many features of the in-person training, like activities and projects. But it also features an interactive storybook and videos as well.

“We know that being a young student isn’t always easy.  That’s why The Walt Disney Company is pleased to support the Start With Hello program to encourage kids to take small but powerful actions to promote connectedness, encourage inclusive behavior, and prevent others from feeling isolated,” said Elissa Margolis, Disney’s senior vice president for enterprise social responsibility, in a statement.  “We are thrilled that our donation has directly contributed toward expanding this great program to reach even more young children during their formative years.”

Sandy Hook Promise is a non-profit formed by parents and family members of victims of the 2012 mass shooting that claimed the lives of 26 individuals. Besides Start with Hello, the organization also offers other programs as part of their Know the Signs violence prevention initiative. The organization advocates for measures to reduce gun violence more broadly in the U.S. and seeks to create a positive, safe culture at school.

Featured Image: Andrea Tummons, Unsplash.