Bullying, harassment and intimidation — often fueled by social media and apps — are ever-present concerns in Long Island schools. New York’s Dignity for All Students Act, implemented in schools statewide in July 2012, aimed for a zero-tolerance policy against such actions. Newsday asked local school superintendents to describe programs and approaches that are working best for their district’s students.

 

MARIE TESTA 

North Bellmore Union Free School District

The North Bellmore School District takes great pride in its Prevention Program, which began more than a quarter-century ago to discourage drug and alcohol abuse and has evolved into a comprehensive program designed to create compassionate children and caring communities.

Lessons are specific to each grade level, with peacemaking skills and violence prevention beginning in kindergarten. As students get older, topics include bullying awareness, creative conflict-solving and internet safety.

Even at the elementary school level, we have a responsibility to educate children about the responsible use of the internet and social media. If we think that cyberbullying is a problem that doesn’t need to be addressed until students reach middle school or high school, they won’t get the message until it’s too late.

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The district believes that a proactive approach is necessary to provide students with a safe and comfortable climate in which to learn and grow. The district’s prevention specialists and social workers not only teach the Prevention Program’s meaningful lessons, but are available to handle specific issues of harassment and bullying that arise, with the support of our administrators and teachers.

 

ALAN GROVEMAN 

Garden City Union Free School District

Every child has the right to be educated in a safe environment without threat or intimidation. Kindness, empathy and resilience are emphasized in our culture and curriculum. Character education begins in primary and elementary schools with the nationally recognized Second Step program and Bucket Fillers.

The middle school’s Anti Bullying Club (ABC) builds on those lessons. ABC holds special events to teach classmates about resisting bullying, models the means for being an “upstander,” and creates PSAs promoting positive student interaction, especially regarding social media.

The high school’s Best Buddies program unites students and their special education peers in a variety of settings to link those that might otherwise have avoided or prejudged each other. Students Helping Students and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) help teens make smart choices and avoid hurtful behavior. Grades K-12 feature an annual Unity Day in order to break down barriers and foster friendships.

We maintain close ties with our PTA and SEPTA, and parents are intimately involved with our efforts at all levels. Parent University is a major collaboration between the community and the district and provides specific workshops on how parents can be proactive in keeping their children safe from cyberbullying.

 

MARNIE HAZLETON

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Roosevelt Union Free School District

In the Roosevelt Union Free School District, we take all allegations of bullying in school and on social media very seriously. All five of our schools have implemented various forms of peer intervention and peer mediation strategies to combat this issue.

Particularly in the Roosevelt Middle School, the administrative team utilizes Student Culture Meetings to share the Dignity for All Students Act. This is where we begin setting the culture and tone for the building by discussing the rights for all students and a zero tolerance for any discrimination, harassment, bullying or intimidation. Highlights from the meetings are placed in our newsletters and parent informational documents. Through our Project S.A.V.E. group, we also coordinate a poster contest in our art classes where students draw or paint their best anti-bullying posters to win prizes and have their work displayed in the building.

To address cyberbullying, we have found that the inclusion of external community agencies to talk with students and to be present in the building has been helpful, i.e. high school students, school resource officers, Planned Parenthood, South Shore Child Guidance Center, NuHealth Family Health Center, Freeport-Roosevelt NAACP, Pride for Youth, Hofstra University and Nassau Community College.

 

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DAVID FLATLEY

Carle Place Union Free School District

We all recognize that bullying, intimidation and harassment are present in many aspects of our lives. From Washington, D.C., to Albany, on the Long Island Expressway and Old Country Road, in our shopping malls and, sadly, even in our schools, we see evidence of the fact that people use their cars, their words and especially social media to intimidate others. I believe that it is a hopeful sign that our laws are being redesigned to address the increase in harassing behaviors and that many of the most influential people in our society, our sports heroes and music stars, are shining a bright light on this issue.

Our schools are most effective when we work in partnership with parents. This is particularly true in the case of bullying on social media. When parents and schools work together to monitor children’s use of this powerful tool, we can limit its negative effects. When children are permitted to operate in solitude and anonymity, even the best codes of conduct become impossible to enforce effectively. Another successful strategy is our partnership with Nassau County police officers who provide excellent guidance to our students.

Let’s use the lessons we have learned from tobacco use and apply them to the problem of bullying. When educators and parents joined a larger societal effort, we witnessed a dramatic reduction in the use of tobacco products, not solely in our schools. I am hopeful that a similar effort will bring about the same positive effects in the ways that we treat each other!

 

BILL HEIDENREICH

Valley Stream Central High School District

As we work with our students, one thing that is clear is the number of complaints about bullying. This is a national phenomenon. Bullying certainly needs to be addressed and schools across the country are working to address bullying from the schoolyard to cyberspace.

One of the concerns that I have been observing more and more of late is that bullying seems to be so prevalent that it is difficult to distinguish between what may be “kid stuff” from what is truly intentionally hurtful. I am also becoming aware that resilience is in short supply. I believe that we need to not only address bullying, but also resilience-building in young people.

Resilience is the capacity to bounce back, to get up after falling down, and to not look at life as problem-free but as filled with challenges and obstacles that must be addressed. I worry that many of our students are becoming fragile and I worry that we are missing opportunities to help them develop the capacity to not be victimized.

Thus, as we enter the new school year we must continue to work together to thwart bullying and to build resilience in our students.

 

JOSEPH FAMULARO

Bellmore Union Free School District

Our greatest joy and greatest pain can come from our relationships with others. In Bellmore, we strongly believe that students need to develop both character and competence (academics) in order to grow into successful members of our global community. Therefore, we have a responsibility to provide students with the tools for positive relationship-building.

Our Bellmore Stars character development philosophy is at the heart of our efforts and is based on universal leadership principles and shared core values. We foster the social-emotional development of all children, acknowledging each student’s leadership potential and recognizing them as a Bellmore Star.

As part of our character development approach, we explicitly teach and model essential interdependent relationship skills. We teach students universal leadership principles, such as to listen first before responding in order to truly understand what the speaker is saying and to problem-solve solutions that work for everyone involved. We promote synergy, where students learn that working cooperatively together can lead to results which are greater than anyone can attain individually.

By building these critically important interpersonal leadership skills for both in-person and cyber relationships, children develop empathy and naturally treat each other with respect and kindness. From the time our students enter in prekindergarten, this proactive development of social-emotional skills is embedded throughout the curriculum and modeled by everyone in our community of learners. This has resulted in the creation of a positive, prosocial environment where everyone uses common leadership language and where students value and embrace the benefits of positive relationships.