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Massena Central School District promotes anti-bullying effort

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MASSENA - Anti-bullying efforts took the spotlight last week in the Massena Central School District, but they’re far from over.

Individuals at each school were invited to wear orange during Unity Day on Wednesday, an effort that started last year at Madison Elementary School.

As part of another effort, students at J.W. Leary Junior High are being encouraged to join a club that promotes anti-bullying.

Madison Elementary School counselor Tammy Burke said elementary counselors go into each classroom every year and talk about respect and what it means to be a good friend, with the “golden rule” of treating others the way they would want to be treated. They also define bullying and how it affects people.

“Last year we started a program that empowers the ‘bystanders.’ We taught them ways to stand up and speak out - how to become ‘upstanders.’ For the last two years our students at Massena elementary schools took pledges against bullying,” she said.

As part of their efforts this year they showed students a video called “The Bully Effect.” Students also crated balloons that represented each child. They said, “I am someone” and each child indicated what they were good at or something that made them feel special.

Orange shirts were also out in full force on Wednesday when they pushed the anti-bullying message during National Bully Awareness Day.

“With the support of my principal (Alan Oliver), last year Madison Elementary participated in National Bully Awareness Day in October. Our entire school wore orange to support National Bully Awareness Day,” which is sponsored by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center in Minneapolis, Minn., Ms. Burke said.

She said they wanted to involve other schools last year, but had a short time-frame to get things organized. However, this year they were able to do that, and she said she received permission to speak with other school administrators to encourage the entire district to “unite as one” this year.

“This year I was able to get support from the superintendent (William W. Crist) in order to pull something together. I was so glad we had the support from the superintendent and all of the administrators,” she said.

“By Massena Central students and staff wearing orange on National Bully Awareness Day, we can all show how important it is and that we are all wiling to unite as one and take a stand against bullying. The message we share is, everyone belongs, everyone is someone. When we take a stand against bullying, when one person takes that stand, more people take it. There’s power in numbers,” she said.

By wearing orange to show their support of anti-bullying, Ms. Burke said, “we unite as one. It was not only Massena Central School along with Trinity Catholic School, but nationally people wore orange all over.

In the district, she said, “I would say you would see the majority of people wearing orange. It was awesome to see. Kids feel empowered by it. Instead of being bystanders, we want them to become upstanders.”

Ms. Burke said spreading the anti-bullying message is important to her.

“I am huge about standing up against bullying. I work very hard at educating my kids here at Madison. I’m always looking for new programs and new things to do to help kids participate and empower them to stand up against bullying,” she said.

“Last year I was looking for new programs and stumbled across the PACER page. That’s when I first saw Unity Day as a whole and it’s nationwide,” she said.

At J.W. Leary Junior High, Lisa Witkop is spearheading her own effort. She is now the faculty advisor for a new student group called “Be the Change,” which works toward creating the best learning environmental possible for students.

“She’s in the middle of recruiting for that,” Principal Jesse C. Coburn said.

He said after Ms. Burke spearheaded the National Bully Awareness Day campaign in the district he and Ms. Witkop had been having conversations about what they could do at the junior high.

“She asked if it was OK to start an anti-bullying club. We’ve been bouncing that back and forth,” he said.

They used their morning and afternoon announcements over the public address system to spread the word not only about wearing orange, but also joining the club.

“I said why don’t you do one and use it as a plug for your new group,” Mr. Coburn said.

“Be the Change” operates on the philosophy that students want an end to bullying and negative, hurtful behavior that appears inside and outside the school, Ms. Witkop said.

She said their goals are to increase awareness of the types of bullying, where and how it occurs; increase the ability to stop bullying from a grass roots movement - students educating each other by creating a video, artwork, skits and other presentations to educate the students and teachers in the junior high; creating an environment where students feel they have the ability to make a positive change in their school; and educating parents on their role in helping to minimize bullying.

“Kids at the school know that there’s a problem with bullying, and they want it to change,” Ms. Witkop said.

Ten students attended the first meeting this week, and they plan to spread the message through a number of avenues, such as posters.

“The idea is to have the kids be the ones to take charge of educating the rest of the student body about how to stop bullying. It’s from the bottom up. We want to give them something they can be proud of and promote,” she said. “I’m really excited about it.”

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