By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
McCOMB — Reaching out to lonely students might be an uncomfortable or intimidating task for their peers, but it’s one worth undertaking, a speaker with Sandy Hook Promise told McComb students on Tuesday.
Michael Webber, a former commander of the Findlay post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, asked the students to think of a time they felt isolated and like they couldn’t talk to anyone.
“Many of us” have felt that way, but had friends and family to provide support, Webber said.
“But think about students that go to school every day” feeling hopeless, he said.
Isolated students are “the first to get picked on,” Webber said. That bullying might turn into violence against the student; the student might respond with violence. Or, the isolated student might suffer from depression.
“You’re the eyes and ears of the school,” Webber told the students.
They notice when other students are alone, but they may not know what to do about that. Webber advised them to reach out to those students (provided, of course, they’re truly lonely and not seeking some needed alone time).
The first step? That’s the theme of this week: “Start With Hello.”
Start With Hello Week is one of the programs within Sandy Hook Promise, an organization whose goal is to prevent gun violence. It was founded by family members of those who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.
Webber also advised inviting students to sit with a group at lunch, or reaching out on social media or with a handwritten note.
He suggested conversation starters ranging from simple who, what, when, where and why questions to icebreakers like “Would you rather…?” questions. A new student might be asked about where they lived before.
There’s something to learn from everyone, Webber said.
“For me, you can’t have enough friends. It just enriches my life so much,” he said.
On Monday, the school passed out “Start With Hello” buttons and made sure everyone was greeted on the way in, said Misty Sager, an intervention specialist who helped arrange Webber’s speech and the other student-led activities this week.
Students followed up Webber’s speech Tuesday by making sure their peers did not eat alone at lunch.
Today, Lifesavers with messages about kindness and inclusion will be passed out to “remind everyone to be a lifesaver,” Sager said.
Students will write messages about what they’re thankful for on Thankful Thursday, and finish the week with “team-building games” on Friday, she said.
Webber retired from the highway patrol 15 years ago. He was a military police officer in the Army before spending 27 years with the patrol.
In addition to being a Sandy Hook Promise speaker, he is now employed by the University of Findlay to do training on safety, security and critical situations.