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Carrboro Elementary School Says "Hey" to Create New Tradition

The exuberant commotion of students unloading from buses and cars and filling the hallways of Carrboro Elementary School (CES) intensified even more on the morning of Friday, April 26. Students were greeted with a visual and spoken immersion in “Say Hey Day,” the first ever at CES, and the first of its kind in any CHCCS elementary school. Large, bright banners and posters proclaimed “Say Hey” and “Di Hola,” and a group of high-profile guests from the community formed a High Five line, with hand slapping down the hallway.

CES Say Hey Day banners “Say Hey Day” is a variation on the increasingly popular and widespread “Start with Hello” initiative from the anti-violence non-profit, Sandy Hook Promise (SHP). Both Chapel Hill High School and East Chapel Hill High School have developed robust “Start with Hello” days at their schools, but the celebration of inclusivity hasn’t taken hold in middle and elementary schools yet. However, last October, a trainer from SHP led workshops for all CHCCS Student Services staff and other district leaders, and the impact has begun to spread and gain traction.

Liz Porter, the CES school librarian, and Katie Harrison, school social worker, decided they wanted to form an afterschool club to encourage students to take action and inspire change in the school community, and so the idea for the Cubs Kindness Ambassadors was born. Porter said, “We had spoken about the Sandy Hook Promise program and thought that this club might be a good way to train students at our school and let them take leadership roles in how the program was implemented at Carrboro.”

The Kindness Ambassadors only began meeting this spring, after receiving a basic training by watching the overview slides for SHP Say Hey Day. The CES PTA funded the club, and its members quickly jumped into the planning for Say Hey Day.

As students entered the school that morning, staff and Kindness Ambassadors encouraged everyone to make name tags at tables set up throughout the school. Then many of them had the opportunity to exchange High Fives with a long line of civic leaders and public servants. Mayor Lydia Lavelle and Orange County Commissioner Chair, Penny Rich, led the local government faction, and they were joined by a host of fire and police officers, including Police Captain, Chris Atack, who heads the Critical Incident Unit for the Town of Carrboro.

Coordinator of Social and Emotional Learning, Vernon Hall, also lined up for the High Five greetings. He said, “Every student was acknowledged! I enjoyed seeing the smiles on their faces, and the staff's enthusiasm was amazing!”  

Before students started their class day, they settled into auditorium seats for a brief Say Hey assembly, produced by the Ambassadors. They heard “hello” in numerous world languages, and they learned the basic principles of the SHP program: to build inclusivity and connectedness in the community and reduce social isolation --  #StartwithHello.

The name tags served all day as reminders for students and staff to greet each other by name. Whenever possible, the goal was to extend past hello to share a few more words. Porter and Harrison set up Say Hey Bingo on the playground for each grade level recess, and children had an opportunity to meet and learn more about their classmates.

CES Say Hey video On Monday, April 29, the Kindness Ambassadors met with Porter and Harrison for their final meeting of the year. They debriefed extensively on Say Hey Day and offered a number of suggestions for improving the event next year. “Different name tags since the sticky ones fell off!” “Make sure EVERYONE has a name tag.” “Maybe have hand sanitizer after High Fives-- or give fist bumps instead?” The students then took turns creating very short video clips of each other describing why it’s important to Say Hey.

Porter said, “Of our group of ten students in the club, six are third graders, and I am hopeful that these students can continue to be leaders as we make Say Hey Day an annual event. Say Hey Day will celebrate kindness and the many ways that we can connect with each other to strengthen our school community.”

During the October SHP staff workshops, the trainer repeatedly reminded the participants that too many students feel invisible. “We have students who are screaming for help. In the waters of life, they’re asking, Is there anyone who sees me, hears me?” He paused in his presentation and looked out at his audience. “Ask yourselves, if not me, then who?”

Thank you to Porter, Harrison, and the Cubs Kindness Ambassadors for showing other schools how to start with a simple “Hey” to elevate awareness of community connections!