Amber Sharpe could not wait for the recess bell to ring on Monday afternoon.Once it did, the Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School fourth-grader and her friends made a line for the swings, skipping along the way. But that’s when Amber, 9, noticed that some of her friends were sitting around a picnic table, huddled around a notebook.
She went up to them and asked what the list on the notebook page was for.
“Our new club,” replied one of the girls before the group, all fellow fourth-graders, invited Amber to join them at the table.
All the girls were in blue, but their matching attire had nothing to do with the new club. Their blue threads represented a promise to always include others and to stand up for those who are the victims of bullying.
“We’re wearing blue to stomp out bullying,” explained Laurette Schaumloffel, another fourth-grader sitting at the table. “You have to speak up and say something, because if you’re quiet, you’re just going to be a bystander.”
Monday’s national “Stomp Out Bullying Day,” in which students were encouraged to wear blue to represent their solidarity, is designed to raise awareness about October being Bullying Prevention Month. It is also meant to encourage students to learn what to do when they, or someone they know, is confronted by a bully.
“Everyone should be free to do what they want to do,” Amber said. “They should be free to play where they want to play, and dress like they want to dress, and act like they want to act, and not let bullies stop them.”
At the Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School, students have been taught lessons about building good character throughout the school year. In September, the school’s theme was “Working Hard to Stomp Out Bullying,” which led into October’s theme of “Friendship,” according to Dr. Ronald Masera, the superintendent and principal of the Remsenburg school.
His school joined many others across the South Fork that are working this month to educate their students on ways to prevent bullying, and what to do when they, or one of their friends or classmates, is confronted by one.
The Southampton Town Youth Bureau and Town Councilwoman Christine Scalera are planning two events for parents and students later this month that promote bullying prevention.
The first event, scheduled for next Thursday, October 16, at 6 p.m., at the Hampton Bays Middle School, is titled “Tolerance and Anti-Bullying,” and designed for both parents and students. The gathering will feature Tracy Feinberg of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, and will also feature student speakers from the Hampton Bays and Pierson middle schools, as well as the Southampton Intermediate School.
The second event, scheduled for Wednesday, October 22, at 6:30 p.m., at the Hampton Bays Senior Center on Ponquogue Avenue, is geared toward middle and high school students and adults. Detective Rory Forrestal of the Suffolk County Police Department will be speaking about cyberbullying and web crimes at that meeting.
“This is a topic very close to my heart,” said Ms. Scalera, who has a 10-year-old daughter. “You never want to see a child go through that.”
“We want to help people understand what the impact is,” added Nancy Lynott, director of the Southampton Town Youth Bureau. “I think people are realizing [that] bullying is not just a rite of passage that all kids go through.”
Ms. Scalera also noted that she works with schools during October to ensure that their presentations are pertinent to current issues, such as cyberbullying and inappropriate text messaging.
“We are very fortunate to have schools that are as proactive as they are,” Ms. Scalera said. “We can’t prevent bullying on all levels, but the best thing you can do, I think, is to give the tools and resources to schools and families.”
In other schools across the South Fork, administrators are working with teachers to keep bullying prevention prevalent throughout the year.
At Southampton High School, students are encouraged to participate in “Mix It Up At Lunch” day on Tuesday, October 28. This national campaign challenges students to sit with someone new during lunch to break down social boundaries.
At the Bridgehampton School, teachers and staff address bullying by teaching the six pillars of character—trustworthiness, caring, responsibility, respect, fairness and citizenship—by focusing on a different pillar each month.
“Our character education focus for October is trustworthiness, which speaks to being honest, reliable and standing by family, friends and country—definitely a trait that honors the idea of anti-bullying,” Dr. Lois Favre, superintendent of the single-school district, wrote in an email. “As the year progresses, we celebrate traits of caring, responsibility, respect, fairness and citizenship—looking to build character and in so doing, assure a bully-free environment.”
Teachers and administrators at the Tuttle Avenue School, the kindergarten through second grade school in Eastport, are taking a similar approach.
“By instilling positive words, modeling how we treat one another and praising the positive behaviors we see, we help students learn the appropriate way to behave and interact,” Karen Koliadko, the principal of the Tuttle Avenue School, wrote in an email. “We hope that by reaching children at a young age, we are setting the foundation for positive behaviors in the future.”
In Hampton Bays computer classes, students are learning how to become good “cyber citizens,” according to Schools Superintendent Lars Clemensen.
“We took the old computer class and changed it because kids come in already knowing how to type and how to use a computer,” he said on Tuesday morning. “We stress that once something is out there on social media, you can’t take it back—it’s out there forever.”
Students at Hampton Bays High School created an Anti-Bullying Team of 20 students who meet to develop student-centric responses to bullying. They also work on mentoring peers and organizing campaigns. Currently, the students are working on a pledge for all of their peers to sign.
Students across Southampton Town are also encouraged to participate in the “Imagine That! Anti-Bullying Art Contest” sponsored by Joyce Raimondo, an Amagansett artist and author, and founder of Imagine That!, a nonprofit that works with students to spark creativity through art.
The challenge is to create a picture that illustrates teamwork. Students can scan and email submissions to email@example.com, or send them via snail mail to Imagine That! Art Education, P.O. Box 419, Amagansett, NY 11930. Submissions are due by the end of the month and must include the student’s name, grade, parent or teacher’s email and phone number. Winners will be announced on December 1.
In the interim, students like Kevin Lemus, a third-grader at the Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School, said that preventing bullying is something to strive for every day, not just during the month of October.
“I try to make it extinct because it’s too much to handle for all of us,” he said on Monday afternoon. “Sometimes, it could just take one person to stop it.”