Social inclusion can prevent school violence, Sandy Hook speaker tells Youngstown workshop

By Peter H. Milliken


Dismantling the barriers of social isolation can help prevent students from hurting themselves or others, a speaker said at an anti-bullying workshop for educators and mental health and legal professionals.

Paula Fynboh, national field director for Sandy Hook Promise, explained her organization’s “Start with Hello” initiative Friday at the workshop titled “Teen Wars: The Changing Battlefield of Adolescent Bullying and How Adults Can Help.”

The initiative teaches students in grades 2 through 12 how to reach out to their peers, who may be chronically socially isolated, and give them a sense of connectedness to others in their school or youth group.

The initiative encourages them “to create a culture of kindness and inclusion within their classrooms, their schools and their communities,” Fynboh said.

“Across every school and every community, there are people who feel invisible and alone, and they go through each day suffering,” Fynboh said.

“When people feel like that every day, they can become at greater risk of bullying, depression and violence. And, sometimes, that feeling can feel so bad that it can actually make you physically sick. It can make it really hard to concentrate and learn.”

“We can change that by learning how to reach out and connect,” she said.

Fynboh led the 162 workshop participants at the Maronite Center through a simulation of the “Start with Hello” initiative.

Another Sandy Hook program, titled “Say Something,” teaches students in grades 6 through 12 how to recognize threats of self-harm or harm to others, especially on social media, and urges them to report those threats to trusted adults.

“In four out of five cases of school shootings, the attacker told somebody their plans beforehand,” Fynboh told the audience. “All violence is preventable.”

Twenty first-graders and six educators were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.

Adam Lanza, 20, had fatally shot his mother, Nancy Lanza, 52, in their Newtown residence before killing the children and educators and fatally shooting himself.

The nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise was organized by family members who lost loved ones in the school massacre, which was the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

“The warning signs that jeopardize the safety and well-being of our children and our schools require a collective community response,” said Judge Theresa Dellick of Mahoning County Juvenile Court.

“Parents expect and all children deserve a healthy and safe learning environment, and we must intervene to prevent both bullying and social isolation and foster healthy minds and school climates,” the judge said.

The national Sandy Hook Promise organization promotes identification and mental health intervention for those who may wish to hurt themselves or others; ensuring the safety and security of guns so they won’t be used by those who shouldn’t have access to them, including minors; and reduction in gun magazine size to reduce lethality.

Other Friday workshop topics included cyberbullying and Internet safety and the social and emotional impact of bullying and peer marginalization on adolescent development.

The workshop was sponsored by the county juvenile court and its advisory board; the Harrington, Hoppe and Mitchell law firm; the DeBartolo Corp.; and the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board.

Sandy Hook Promise offers its training programs free to schools and youth organizations.

The national organization will give workshops Wednesday at Austintown Fitch High School and Austintown Middle School.

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