Although the food and location might not have changed, Deer Run Elementary School students still were exploring new territory this week during lunch.

Each day, students randomly were assigned seats to meet new people within their grade.

The activity was one part of the school's celebration of Start with Hello Week, which schools throughout the country observed Feb. 5-9.

Start With Hello, a program started by Sandy Hook Promise, focuses on teaching students how to create a culture of inclusion for their classmates, according to the organization's website. Sandy Hook Promise is a national non-profit organization founded by family members of those killed Dec. 14, 2012, in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

This is the third year for the weeklong program.

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Giving children the tools and skills to initiate conversation and feel included is important, said Principal Susann Wittig.

School leaders heard about the program through a suggestion from a parent, Wittig said.

Monday, second-graders kicked off the week by performing for their peers skits that illustrated strategies for communication ice breakers, Wittig said.

In the lunch area, students also could look at the TV to get quick conversation prompts to use with other children, she said.

Students enjoyed the randomly selected lunchtime seating so much, school officials have decided to implement it on a weekly basis with Mix It Up Mondays, Wittig said.

Knowing how to initiate conversation is helpful for children, because it assists them in breaking out from their existing circle of friends, said Gina Seemann, a fourth-grade teacher.

Ella Bender, a 10-year-old fifth-grader, said she has been seated with a few friends along with some students she hasn't known during lunch time this past week.

"I think it's fun," she said.

Fifth-grader Jonah Lee, 10, said he has enjoyed the randomized lunchtime seating.

"I feel like it's a good chance to meet new people," he said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah