Start with Hello Week helps WSCD elementaries foster community and sense of belonging

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Emerson Elementary is ready for the upcoming Start with Hello Week festivities. 

The school’s entrance is plastered with hellos — all translated to different languages. A giant handprint, which serves as the foundation for a school-wide project that celebrates all students, is posted in the hallway. Materials for the pinwheels students will create during International Peace Day on Wednesday have been organized. 

School counselor Andrea Wiseman and members of Emerson’s student equity team are prepared to launch Start with Hello Week on Monday, joining thousands of schools and youth organizations nationwide in the national call-to-action week dedicated to making new social connections and creating a sense of belonging among youth.

This year’s festivities have an even greater significance for Emerson — a magnet school where students tend to remain together in classes as they move up each grade level. 

This year, more than half of the faces, including staff, are new to the building as a result of program changes to the district’s elementary magnet program. (The Fine Arts program previously housed at Hanby Elementary is now at Emerson while the gifted program that had been at Emerson was moved to Hanby.) 

Start with Hello Week serves as a great opportunity to welcome those new to Emerson as well as foster a community throughout the building, said Wiseman, who also serves as the school’s equity facilitator. 

“At the heart of all this is creating a sense of belonging,” she said. 

Many Westerville elementaries are also organizing activities for Start with Hello Week, which runs Sept. 19-23. Created by the Sandy Hook Promise organization, the week is focused on helping students build empathy, healthy relationships and social awareness through social-emotional lessons and activities.

In addition, schools are hosting Green Outs where students and staff will wear green as a symbol of unity and lunch table talks with conversation starters to promote positive conversations and relationships among students.

Wilder students created a “Where We Belong” art piece that features portraits of students that will be displayed in the school throughout the week. Robert Frost students can send “hello grams” to peers across the building. Students at Pointview will make a "promise" for a school-wide "Promise Chain" that will link all classes together and hang in the main hallway. Whittier created a Thank You Tree where each class will make a thank you card to show appreciation for a trusted adult.

At Minerva France, grade-level classes are partnering up for an activity to get to know one another on Wednesday. On Friday, older students will be paired with a younger “buddy” to play games and create crafts.

Emerson has several school-wide activities to celebrate the week. As part of the Little Hands Can Make a Big Difference project, each student will make a handprint from paper with different skin tones to hang on a “belonging” tree. In honor of International Peace Day on Wednesday, students will create pinwheels for peace, which will be displayed on the front lawn. Green hearts from the fifth-grade classroom’s Count Me In project will hang from the trees at the school’s entrance. After students read the book Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj, students created green hearts with drawings and hashtags that highlight empathy, equity, a sense of belonging and activism.

Members of the student equity team will visit classrooms to read the book, Everyone Belongs by Heather Avis. The book highlights a key message in the Start with Hello Week festivities: Embrace people where they are and make sure they feel included. 

“I would be super nervous if I came to a new school so I would want someone to comfort me and to just be there,” said fifth-grader Noemi Fuentes, who is a member of the student equity council. “Hello would just make my day.”

Maggie Drake, who is also a fifth-grader and part of the student equity team, said she is excited about Start with Hello Week.

“It’s about having fun and making sure people feel like they belong,” she said.