While we are all understandably enthralled in the excitement of Spirit Week, Saying Something isn’t exactly our top priority. We can’t imagine anything but camaraderie among the student body during the best week of the school year.
This week, however, is so much more than just Spirit Week; it also doubles as Say Something week. The Half Hollow Hills community, as well as millions of students in schools throughout the country, are participating in the Say Something campaign, dedicated to the Sandy Hook Promise.
Nobody could ever forget the tragedy that struck Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut on December 12, 2012. Twenty elementary-aged children and six faculty members were fatally shot by Adam Lanza in an act of unadulterated evil, leaving the entire country beyond devastated. As images of unimaginable horror and stories of unbelievable heroism were brought to light, the Sandy Hook Promise organization resolved to take action to prevent any family from ever losing a loved one in the manner the Sandy Hook children were heartbreakingly massacred.
This will be the second year that Half Hollow Hills takes part in the Say Something initiative, doing its part to spread awareness. In the words of assistant principal Mr. Abrescia, “It’s a way for all schools across the country to heighten their awareness so that we don’t have a repeat of that day. The idea behind it is twofold: The first being Start With Hello, where we encourage kids to speak to people they normally would not have conversations with or, if they see somebody who looks alone, to include them. We want this to be a very inclusive type of school where nobody feels excluded by any individual or group. The second part is Say Something, which is more of an awareness program, where we want people to understand the warning signs of school violence or any kind of online messages that might result in somebody either being in a position to hurt other people or themselves.”
The emphasis is to prevent violence to oneself as well as upon others. Mr. Abrescia voiced this, “If you decide not to say something, you only get one chance at it, potentially. While you get over being angry at somebody for telling your secret, you don’t get over dying. Understand the difference between being viewed as a ‘tattle tale’ or a ‘snitch’ and Saying Something.”
Last year, we commemorated the incomprehensible catastrophe with assemblies and presentations of the warning signals of which we should all be cognizant, as well as methods for the student body to take action. This year, however, Hills West will be taking a different, more interactive approach to the Say Something Promise, working closely with the Peer Ambassadors to bring the initiative alive. Dr. Hernandez outlined, “The counseling staff will be wearing the Say Something green shirts to identify them, and the Peer Ambassadors are wearing their own shirts to identify them as Trusted Young Adults.”
The idea of a Trusted Adult is integral to the Say Something Promise. Many teachers throughout the building already have signs hanging up in their rooms, declaring their commitment to being a confidant to the student body. Mr. Abrescia elaborated, “We want kids to feel comfortable talking to whom is deemed a Trusted Adult. That doesn’t mean you have to go to an administrator or a counselor or a psychologist. You can go to a teacher, you can go to a parent, you can go to somebody in your church your temple, whatever it may be.”
Throughout the building, the Peer Ambassadors and guidance staff have been committed to preparing a week of encouragement the student body. “The Peer Ambassadors got together,” explained Dr. Hernadez, “and wrote positive affirmations on Post-Its for kids to take, with the idea: If you’re having a bad day, a positive thought can intrude your negativity. That board is right across from the Health Office, and there are tons of Post-Its that are already there.”
But that is only the beginning! You’ve probably already seen Your Words Matter in the main lobby. “In the main lobby by the windows, is called Your Words Matter,” described Dr. Hernandez. “There’s going to be a white oaktag saying ‘Say Something Week’ in the middle. Around it will be some Negative words such as ‘Rejected’, ‘Lonely’, ‘Isolated’, etc. The staff and students are encouraged to write around it more positive things to change perspective.” Peer Ambassadors and Administration created Your Words Matter with the hopes of implementing more positive words into our student body’s daily vernacular. The hope is that this will increase the morale of students who may be struggling.
Mrs. Reynolds urged, “For students that are feeling alone and they don’t know where to turn, I urge you to talk to somebody about it. Again, try to find that one Trusted Adult, a guidance counselor, psychologist, whoever it may be. The first step is really talking it out with someone to see if these feelings are something that needs to be addressed. Everyone is going to have their bad days. Everybody is going to go through some tough times, especially with all of the stress of school and all that is going on outside of school. We never know what some of the students are going home to every day. It’s when those bad days are outnumbering the good days that something needs to happen.”
The Peer Ambassadors are also doing their part among their peers to create a more positive student-to-student relationship. As per Dr. Hernandez, “Peer Ambassadors were each given a couple of Pom Poms, and the idea is to pay it forward and give a compliment forward.”
Among all of the excitement that Pep Rally and Homecoming have to offer, it is crucial that the student body remembers that Say Something week is more than just a week-long promise, but a life-long responsibility. Yousef Harhash, a junior as well as a Peer Ambassador, spoke to what Say Something week means to him: “During this week, our district hopes to educate the teachers and students that, if we see something wrong, unjust, or that makes us feel uncomfortable, to stand up. Many of our teachers and faculty have stepped up and advocated to be a Trusted Adult to speak up to. It’s important to know that we always have safe outlets to talk about our problems, and that’s exactly what High School West plans to do in honor of those affected by the Sandy Hook shooting.”
Spirit Week is far greater than a grade-vs-grade feud and a football game. It’s a commitment to our school and all that it stands for. It is an acknowledgment of how lucky each and every one of us truly is to be a student in a district so faithfully devoted to our personal and academic betterment. We have a duty, as members of the HHH community, to aid our administration in the preservation of the safety of our district. As said best by Mr. Abrescia, “I think we all share a responsibility to look out for each other. I wouldn’t ask a student to get involved in a situation, but at least make us aware of it so that we are able to provide a solution. It’s not your responsibility alone. It’s our responsibility.”
“My goal is to keep everybody safe,” said Dr. Catapano. With all of the efforts put forth by our unbelievably dedicated faculty to make our district a safe place for all, we must do our small part in keeping our eyes open.
With such an extensive myriad of resources at our fingertips designed to promote unity and cooperation among us all, there is so much for which we should all be immensely grateful. We may be competing by grade level this Spirit Week, but we mustn’t forget that we are forever tied together as students of Hills West.
Written by Julia Jassey
with Reporting by Aleena Paulson