By Greg Carannante
City & Shore Magazine
A teacher’s influence can touch the lives of hundreds of students – and maybe even save some of them. That’s what happened recently at one local school when a teacher assigned a project for which three students created a website about school gun violence. Their research connected them with the Connecticut parents group formed after the country’s deadliest grade-school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. In recent months, group members visited the school twice to join those students in launching innovative programs to help cultivate a culture of inclusion among students. And, they hope, to stop another tragedy before it starts.
SCHOOL: North Broward Preparatory School,
7600 Lyons Road, Coconut Creek.
TEACHER: Michelle Henne, seventh-grade American history.
STUDENTS: Jonathan Feltingoff, Riley Rosenthal and Clancy Marsh.
Jonathan: Our history teacher assigned a project for National History Day. The theme was ‘Taking a Stand in History.’ We started researching and found Sandy Hook Promise, created by parents of Sandy Hook victims. We compiled our research into a website [http://32937361.nhd.weebly.com/].
Ms. Henne: The boys decided to focus on gun violence prevention and Sandy Hook parents. They were able to schedule a phone interview with one victim’s parent, Mark Barden. Their website won first place at the school NHD History Fair.
Jonathan: Our project’s best part was the phone interview with the parent.
Ms. Henne: As a result, Sandy Hook Promise reached out to Jonny, thanking the boys for their leadership and requesting a media event to kick off their Start With Hello Week.
Jonathan: The Start with Hello program is about creating a culture of inclusion. When people become isolated from a friend group, a sports team, etc., it can really affect them and they can perhaps do something violent. The SWH program’s focus is to include everyone, and start by saying hello!
Ms. Henne: The boys would be ambassadors for the program and pledge to continue it throughout middle and high school. Members from Sandy Hook Promise, including Mark Barden, came to our campus and presented the program to our seventh grade. The boys were featured in a local TV news report.
Jonathan: If we see somebody sitting alone at lunch, we sit with them. If someone doesn’t get picked to play football, we let them play as a sub. If we see someone standing alone before school, we stand with them.
Ms. Henne: What began as a class assignment has turned into such a rewarding experience! The boys periodically asked for assistance, but ultimately they were the ones to reach out to Sandy Hook, schedule the interview and plan the activities. With my encouragement, the boys prepared appropriate questions to ask Mark Barden, being sensitive to the nature of topic. I also assisted them with brainstorming the week’s activities [Hey Day, Random Act of Kindness Day, National No One Eats Alone Day].
Jonathan: Start With Hello has prevented a school shooting in Ohio, and being able to promote it in our school has made us feel proud to make a difference. I appreciate that Ms. Henne took time out of her personal life to help us. E-mails she sent us were at 5 a.m., and that really shows she cares.
Thanks to the efforts of the three boys, North Broward Prep has kept its focus on student safety. Sandy Hook Promise returned to the school in April as a Start With Hello presentation was given to the entire middle school. And its national awards program recently honored the school with a $500 runner-up prize for School Spirit and Sustainability. Also, the three student ambassadors were involved in presenting two more programs to seventh-graders: Say Something, which helps students recognize signs of potentially violent behavior in peers and intervene by telling a trusted adult; and April 28’s “National Call It Out Day” campaign to end social isolation online.