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TUSD takes the Sandy Hook Promise
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Though the Kindness Club at Dutcher Middle School is fairly new, coming into fruition late last school year, participation is high, as representatives joined in on the fun at Pitman High on Thursday for the CalSTOP Save Promise Club Youth Leadership Training (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

Though the tragic events that unfolded at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut have already surpassed 10 years, the impact and lessons that the school shooting left are still being felt and shared today.

On Thursday, students from each of Turlock Unified School District’s 14 schools came together at the Pitman High School library to meet with representatives of the Sandy Hook Promise for the CalSTOP Save Promise Club Youth Leadership Training. The event is a collaboration between the Sandy Hook Promise, the nationwide Students Against Violence Everywhere program, and the California Department of Education’s CalSTOP violence prevention and mental health initiative.

Students in attendance were either part of campus SAVE clubs, Kindness Clubs or in ASB. The objective for the workshops is to create awareness of Start with Hello and Say Something programs. Start with Hello teaches students to be more socially inclusive and connected to each other to prevent social isolation while Say Something teaches middle and high school students to recognize the warning signs of someone at-risk of hurting themselves or others and how to say something to a trusted adult to get help.

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Students from all 14 TUSD campuses broke the ice at Thursday’s CalSTOP Save Promise Club Youth Leadership Training with several activities, including dancing, which you can always count on for a bit of humor and fun (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

“We’re super excited to partner with Sandy Hook Promise. I can’t think of a time in TUSD where we’ve ever had something like this,” said Marie Russell, who serves as the director of communications and family engagement and outreach for TUSD. “We’ve been trying to get this off the ground for two years. This year, I got a new job title and new responsibility, and the number one priority I had for myself was launching SAVE Promise clubs at every school and getting our Say Something and Start with Hello Campaigns.”

The all-day event encouraged students to participate in activities alongside other students, with an emphasis on communicating with those they don’t know.

Turlock High junior Ayleen Garibay was one of the over 100 students and staff members in attendance and spoke about the importance of spreading kindness and spending the day alongside students she has never met before.

“We’ve never really done anything with all the other schools in the district. I’ve personally never done anything like this, so it’s really cool that we’re able to make friends with the younger kids and others we don’t get to see all the time,” Garibay said. “I feel like it’s really important for the younger students to have good role models, and I know all these kids see us doing such a good thing for our community, so I know they’re going to want to do something like this once they’re older, so it’ll lead them in the right direction. I know if I was younger and I had high schoolers talking with me, I would feel a boost of confidence.”

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Students from Julien Elementary brainstorm positive messages to share with other event attendees at Thursday’s CalSTOP Save Promise Club Youth Leadership Training (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

Of the dozens of middle schoolers and elementary students was Dutcher Middle School’s Jose Gaitan. He explained that being a good friend and ally for his classmates is important to him.

“What made me join was just the word ‘kindness’ in the club. Oh, it’s kindness, let me join. Everybody likes kindness and you can’t have enough of it,” he said.

Stephen Schmidt is a freshman at Pitman High. He believes that all the schools joining forces to experience going out of their way to spread kindness and to speak up when they see concerning signs can build a bright future for everyone.

“This event gives these kids a head start going into middle school and high school and teaches them to just do the right thing,” he said. “I think it’s good to come together and trade ideas, so that once we all go back to our own schools and classrooms, we can spread what we learned all over to others and make an overall great impact moving forward.”

The Say Something initiative has already proven to be an important tool within TUSD. After its introduction to students, it has already helped alert campus staff members to numerus potential threats. On Oct. 20, the Turlock Police Department was notified of a conversation between two students in which one warned the other, “Not to come to school tomorrow.” On Feb. 8 and 13, graffiti was discovered each of the days in bathroom stalls indicating threats to campus. Each of the incidents was reported to staff by students and were handled swiftly, each turning out to be false alarms or hoaxes.

For Garibay, the ability to spot isolation or distress from peers is crucial and can make lasting impacts.

“I feel like it really takes toll on someone if they’re going through some stuff and they keep it inside and don’t speak to someone about it, and I feel like if you can make a change and see someone struggling and you can do something to better that, you always want to take that route. It benefits them, it benefits you, it benefits their family, our school, the community,” she said.

All students felt as if their respective campuses are safe and welcoming atmospheres, but acknowledged that there can always be someone whose day can be dampened or who could be experiencing troubling emotions, making it important to be able to notice the signs and have the confidence to take action and the trust to alert an adult.

Pitman High ASB advisor Tanya White and Turlock High ASB advisor Jennifer Cullum will be at the forefront of implementing Thursday’s activities into campus life, especially next week, which is the start of TUSD’s annual Say Something week, which will consist of several social activities and lessons to further learn how to identify problems and analyze situations.

For more information on the Sandy Hook Promise and their Start with Hello and Say Something initiatives, head to