The Sandy Hook Promise “Start With Hello” Campaign is a simple way for students to make sure no one feels left out, said LaTanya McDade, CPS Chief Education Officer.

“Today, we start with hello, and it seems so small, yet it’s so important and so powerful because I think everyone in this room has at some point felt alone or maybe just left out, I know I have,” she said to more than 100 students at Higgins Elementary Feb. 8.

The special event was hosted by nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise. McDade was joined by the organization’s co-founders and managing directors, Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, who each lost a child in the Sandy Hook tragedy.

The campaign is a nationwide effort to promote social inclusion and ensure that all students feel empowered and connected within their school community.

“Within our vision, we have a holistic approach to education, which includes investing in social and emotional learning,” McDade said. “The district has a commitment to “build strong, safe and supportive school environments where every single school feels that they have a voice, they feel respected, they feel valued.”


Barden lost his son Daniel in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. He shared with students one of Daniel’s traits that he admired.

“He was a wonderful little boy; Daniel had some amazing characteristics,” Barden said. “One of those was that he used to notice people sitting alone at his school. If someone were left out and sitting alone, Daniel would notice that and would ask to be excused from the activity just to say hello.”

Hockley lost her six-year-old son, Dylan. She explained to the elementary students how their greeting could make a difference in someone’s life.

“You may never know what by just saying hello to someone might do,” she said. “It could prevent them from making a bad choice; it could change the outcome of what they do that day, that week, that month, or the rest of their life.”


Through a slideshow presentation students learned signs to look for among peers that may indicate they feel left out or are feeling depressed. Isolation and bullying were two examples.

The students were encouraged to start with saying a simple “hello” to everyone, especially those they don’t know and who aren’t a part of a group.

Ensuring that students have a sense of community is important, McDade said.

“It means you feel connected to the environment where you learn, grow, play, make friends,” she said. “This should be a safe place and we will continue to invest in the promise, the promise to ensure that every student has healthy relationships in their school so they can grow to be healthy socially, emotionally, physically and academically.”


Seventh grade student Jasmine Miller said she enjoyed the presentation and could see this working in her school.

“It was really inspiring because you never know what people are going through,” she said.

“There can be some people who you think are okay, but deep down inside, you don’t know what they’re feeling,” she said. “You should always go up to them and try to talk to them.”

Principal Crystal Turner said the activities and tips they were presented with today will have a great impact on students.

“This will help us continue our efforts with building positive healthy relationships from peer to peer because oftentimes they don’t know how to speak to each other,” she said. “To start with ‘hello’ that will give us the opportunity to continue to push them to really just make an effort to be cordial.”