Stopping bullets with sensitivity: Greenpoint students practice empathy to prevent gun violence

Starting early: Youngsters from Greenpoint’s PS 31 learned to be empathetic leaders during a weeks’ worth of lessons as part of the “Start With Hello” gun-violence-prevention program.
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

These kids learned how saying hi can save a life.

Young scholars at a Greenpoint elementary school recently completed a weeks’ worth of events that taught them how a simple hello can go a long way toward stopping gun violence in classrooms, according to a mom who helped put together the preventative programming.

“We want to build a feeling of community and not isolate other kids,” said Anathea Simpkins, whose son is a kindergartener at Meserole Avenue’s PS 31. “The whole goal was to stop gun violence before it starts through education and outreach.”

The pint-sized pupils wrapped the five-day “Start With Hello” initiative — an educational effort started by parents whose children died in 2012 when a shooter gunned down 20 youngsters and six adults at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Conn. — on May 18, the same day a 17-year-old opened fire on his classmates and teachers at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas, killing ten people.

And the lessons the local students learned throughout the week — which included learning how to say hello in several languages, and making sure no one ever eats or plays alone during lunch and recess — reinforced how empathy can help curb senseless violence as much as any legislation, according to Simpkins.

“Understanding the value of reaching out and including that child, and knowing different places where a child might feel alone — such as on the bus or playground — is powerful,” she said. “One simple effort could change their lives, or someone’s else life, forever.”

The program was the first of its kind to come to a New York City school, according to Simpkins, who said she couldn’t be happier with how it went, and that she hopes it will kick-start similar initiatives across the borough and beyond as students continue to advocate for gun-law reforms.

“The teachers really embraced it with open arms, and saw it as a way for them to help prevent gun violence,” she said. “And the kids showed they really do understand.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Keeping classrooms safe: Greenpoint Assemblyman Joseph Lentol joined the kids for the week’s final day of activities on May 18.
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

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