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Long Island bullying Awareness Walk includes role playing

Long Islanders participate in the Bullying Awareness Walk

Long Islanders participate in the Bullying Awareness Walk at North Hempstead Beach Park in Port Washington on May 31, 2014. Credit: Jeremy Bales

A group of teenagers taunted a classmate about his clothing and hair, then one person stepped up and led him away from the bullies.

The bullying wasn't real, even if the lesson of the role-playing exercise was.

"A really effective way of dealing with bulling is partnering with the other person and taking them out of that situation," said Eliza Zipper, program and critical issues manager for the Girl Scouts of Nassau County, who led one of four discussion groups Saturday at the second annual Bullying Awareness Walk at North Hempstead Beach Park in Port Washington.

Zipper said the skit -- a dress rehearsal for real-life situations that teens face -- would teach them the difference between being a bystander and an "upstander," who gets involved when a person is bullied. Zipper defined bullying as repeated verbal or physical abuse intended to harm someone.

The event began last year as the brainchild of three Herricks High School students, Disha Singh and Ayla Gioia, who are now seniors, and Monica Abdallah, now an engineering student at Cooper Union in Manhattan. The trio, who led a group called the Herricks Justice League, organized the walk and discussion groups, along with the North Hempstead government.

Organizers said 160 people registered on-site at the event that drew students from five area high schools. The rise of cyberbullying has raised awareness of the issue.

Gioia, 18, said bullying often takes the form of exclusion.

"People will purposely exclude someone whether it's race, or religion . . . and make them feel unwanted, and that's what we're trying to combat," Gioia said.

Abdallah, 18, said she had been on both sides of bullying in middle school. "I know I did some things that were wrong, and I had some things that were wrong done to me, and I want to fix that," Abdallah said.

North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth, who spoke at the event, said bringing teenagers together to talk about bullying helps them feel empowered. "It gives a voice to people who sometimes feel that they don't have a voice," Bosworth said. She added, "It's everyone's responsibility to stand up against bullying."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the origin of the Herricks Justice League, a student club at Herricks High School. The club was established before organizers created the event.

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