HARLINGEN — In the digital age, we think we can get to know people through text messages, emails, instant messages and other electronic means.

But there’s something missing — the human connection.

That’s why Harlingen High School has started an initiative called “Character Strong” to help foster closer connections between students, teachers, administrators and parents. Those connections require direct physical contact to build a sense of responsibility toward others.

“It’s kind of like lesson plans,” said Linda Salinas, chair of the social studies department.

“It’s a curriculum that schools use to build character among their students,” she said.

The school began the program just this year.

“Our very first activity was getting to know our students each by name and each other knowing everyone else in the class by name,” Salinas said. “If I were to say, ‘Hi, my name is Linda Salinas,’ the whole class would say, ‘Hi Linda’ and we would go down every student.”

Each student gave his or her name and the names of the others who had just introduced themselves.

Students seem to have been enjoying the activities.

“I love that we have the opportunity to collaborate with our classmates and learn about other students in my class that I may not normally have the chance to get to know,” said Brandi Cantu, a senior.

The initiative is being led by the Harlingen High School Student Council and its sponsor, Veronica Hunt. Student Council President Serena Garcia was enjoying the experience.

“I think it’s very important,” she said. “I really love it. I think it’s exciting the Student Council is bringing it into the school.”

The exercises are making students aware of the vital nature of character in everyday life.

“Character Strong opened my eyes about the importance of doing things for others and meeting people around campus,” said Natasha Trevino, a senior.

The initiative continued the week after the “name game” with a focus on the “webby,” the fleshy area between the thumb and index finger.

“The webby is the most important thing when you meet somebody because we touch webbies when we shake hands,” Salinas said. “We talked about having a firm handshake, first impressions, introductions, getting to know people around you.”

This past week, they talked about character and personality traits.

“Your character is like the actions you do daily,” Salinas said. “We talked about how we’re building character through the Character Strong curriculum.”

What is Character Strong?

The Character Strong Team is a partnership of educators, speakers and students who believe in creating sustainable change in schools and helping young people develop the skills of service, kindness and empathy.

Research shows that when a school takes time to cultivate a culture of character and develop social-emotional skills, grades go up and bad behavior goes down.

It makes sense — when kids feel safe and supported, they perform better and want to be there. When students learn the value of kindness, service and empathy, they don’t just walk out of school being competent in math and science — they walk away being capable, compassionate people.