Burnet Middle School gets honor from 'Sandy Hook Promise' foundation

"The fact that someone sees you, looks you in the eye and says 'hello'...that can change your entire day," said Nicole Hockley.

Hockley is faced with the loss of her son Dylan every day.

In 2012, Dylan, along with 19 other first graders and six educators were killed in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

Hockley co-founded "Sandy Hook Promise."  She says the goal of the foundation is to teach kids and adults how to recognize the signs of someone at risk of hurting themselves or others, intervene and take action.

The "Start With Hello" program was born out of that.

"We teach kids to reach out to those who might be chronically socially isolated or feeling invisible or alone and to see them.  And to validate their existence and to reach out and start with 'hello' and bring them in.  It's about creating a culture change from within a school," Hockley said.

During Burnet Middle School's "Start With Hello" week earlier this year, they went all out.

"We did what's called a mix-it-up lunch where you just come in and you're given a ticket and you sit somewhere and you don't sit with the people you normally sit with just to kind of break the ice," said English teacher Sara Te.

"Burnet truly did do some of the most awesome stuff, they had T-shirts for everyone in the school, they ensured they had before-school activities, after-school activities," Hockley said.

Burnet students say they've seen a difference on campus and plan to keep "starting with hello."

"I started talking to people I wouldn't normally talk to because I'm the nerdy theatre, dance kid and I was talking to more of like the popular kids which really showed me how different people could be and it was just phenomenal," said 8th grader Laura Dodd.

"People are more interactive, everyone that I have noticed have more friends and certain specific people...they're not as lonely as they used to be, they get out more, they're with people the way it's supposed to be," said 8th grader Ileanna Villalobos.

Out of about 1900 schools across the country, Burnet Middle School won the grand prize for how students implemented the program in the school and community and made it a part of their everyday lives. 

During a ceremony on Wednesday, Hockley presented the school with a $2,500 check.

The administrators of the school say they plan on taking the money and putting it back into the district to keep the "Start with Hello" program going.

"We want all students to have a positive experience here at school, especially with as awkward as middle school can be for students.  But we want that to be something that is throughout the district and throughout the State and throughout the country," said Burnet Middle School Principal Steve Grant.

"I never forget why I'm here.  I never forget why I'm doing what I'm doing.  But seeing kids embracing it and knowing that in my son's name someone right here in this auditorium might live as a result of that or live a different life as a result of that...that's powerful," Hockley said.