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Former bullies speak at Hofstra conference

They didn't discriminate -- anyone could be the victim of their bullying pranks, teens on a panel said Tuesday at a conference about the subject at Hofstra University.

"We were bullies," said Kizzi Floyd, 17, a Long Beach High School senior. Her friend, junior Somone Merchant, 17, explained, "It wasn't based on race or religion. . . . We thought it was fun. If someone walked by, we'd stick our foot out -- trip!"

But now, the two girls have reformed and are in their school's new anti-bullying club.

Since joining the club, she said, members understand "how it makes people feel, even the littlest things that we take as jokes can really, really hurt people."

Added Floyd, "I don't want anyone killing themselves because I tripped them."

They spoke at a packed conference Tuesday on Internet safety and bullying prevention at Hofstra. The girls, and others in the club, explained why they organized the group.

Sponsored by Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice's Long Island Youth Safety Coalition, the sessions were scheduled after a December conference that was filled to capacity. Each event drew about 350 people, many of them educators helping their districts prepare for a state law taking effect in July requiring anti-bullying programs and in-school training.

Workshop topics included how to monitor and control children's computer usage, anti-bullying programs, legal consequences for sexting and tips on gaining familiarity with social networks. The conference emphasized presentations by young people, said Assistant District Attorney Rene P. Fiechter, who helped organize the event.

Benjamin Kornick, a Roslyn High School junior and one of three panelists from the Nassau County Youth Board, advised parents that they need to use social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to better monitor their children's activities online.

"Most teens know not to run down the street naked, but sexting is something we see every day, everywhere," he said.

Christina Ortiz, 16, of South Side High in Rockville Centre, also on the youth board, said sometimes bullied students are too shy or embarrassed about what's going on and "they want to try to handle it by themselves before going to the parents. It usually doesn't work out well."

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