Start With Hello
A heart-shaped bulletin board with sticky notes hangs in the Buzz Aldrin lobby, each note contains a suggestion from a student on how to be kind to others.
PHOTO BY ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

In the lobby at Buzz Aldrin Middle School, you’ll find a bulletin board with two giant hearts on it. Inside the hearts are hundreds of rainbow-colored sticky notes, each one with a suggestion on how students (and adults) can be nice to each other.

“I show respect by asking someone if they’re OK.”

“I show respect by using polite words like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when I talk.”

“Respect is listening to someone when they are talking.”

The hearts full of respect notes are just one of many things Buzz Aldrin students have been doing through the Start With Hello project, now going into its second year at the school.

The faculty advisors include school counselor Keith Breiman and staffers Jennifer Kosuda, Joseph Turner, Alvina Babu, Charles Poris and Fran Legman.

The goal of Start With Hello is to help schools feel more like welcoming places, particularly to students who may feel left out or who may be going through a tough time.

Start With Hello is a nationwide project started by Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit that was founded in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.

The group’s mission took on new importance after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, in 2018, Breiman said.

At Buzz Aldrin, one of the group’s goals is to encourage students to speak up or do something if they see another student being bullied.

“If someone stands up to that, that’s not easy,” says Babu. “We’re trying to normalize that sort of thing.”

There is a core group of 50 students working with Start With Hello. At the start of the year, each student writes about why they decided to join, and offers suggestions on what kinds of activities the group could do during the year.

Although the six faculty advisors help steer the group and its activities, the students do a lot of the planning.

Start With Hello helped bring in Rutgers football star-turned-motivational speaker Eric LeGrand as a guest speaker at the start of the school year.

One day, the students went to have lunch with students in self-contained special education classrooms.

And just before Thanksgiving break, the students wrote thank-you notes to each of the school’s staff members, including custodial staff, secretaries and security guards, Kosuda said. Two months later, the notes’ recipients are still talking about how much they loved getting the notes.

During the first year, the students came up with book swaps and all-school scavenger hunts.

The students also role-play scenarios, asking what they would do if they saw a student being bullied, or sitting by themselves at lunch, or crying in the hallways, Kosuda said.

Start With Hello recently received a $1,000 grant from the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence. The money is being used to book an appearance by the JLine dance group — which talks to students about drugs, alcohol, bullying and other dangers. The program is planned for Feb. 7.