Claire Padula-Farabaugh is a typical 12-year-old girl. She enjoys horseback riding, jumping rope and swimming in her backyard pool. She’s got a tight-knit group of friends who always have her back.But when she was younger, boys would spit gum in her hair on the school bus. She was too shy to stand up to them, though she did eventually tell her parents and teacher.
Being brave enough to stand up to bullies is not easy, Claire noted during a recent interview, but it is the right thing to do. And it is that newfound courage and confidence that inspired the Eastport Elementary School sixth-grader to enter an anti-cyberbullying poster contest sponsored by the Suffolk County Office of Human Services this spring.
Her creation, which uses fish to represent students and instructs them how to handle bullying in different scenarios, ended up taking top honors among the elementary school entries. Specifically, her post answered two questions: “When I see bullying, what do I do?” and “If I am being bullied, what can I do?”
Claire explained that she used her fish characters to answer those two questions. Each box on her poster features a fish in a different scenario and offers instructions like, “Don’t be a bystander!” “Stand up for the victim!” and “Be a hero!” She also offered three pieces of advice to those being bullied: stay calm, use humor to get out of an uncomfortable situation, and there is strength in numbers.
“I just want to help kids that are going through the same thing,” said Claire, who lives in Manorville.
Her mother, Linda Barrett, can still recall the day Claire came home with gum stuck in her hair. “I called the school right away, and I think it was handled well,” Ms. Barrett said. “They’re going to school to learn, not to deal with this social competition.”
Claire, along with six other first-place finishers in the middle and high school category, were recognized last month and each presented with a certificate by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker, who represents Suffolk’s 6th District in Brookhaven Town. The ceremony was held in Mr. Bellone’s office in Hauppauge.
“Bullying does not discriminate,” Mr. Bellone stated in a press release. “We are taking a step toward eliminating this problem by honoring students who are fighting to end it through their artwork.”
Noting that she has never been the victim of cyberbullying, Claire said she often sees it on social media sites, including Instagram and YouTube. She also suspects that it is a common practice on other social media sites, like Facebook. “I’ve seen people post and call other kids stupid,” she said, declining to say if the victims or bullies were friends or classmates.
She noted that the most important thing for young victims to do is report any crude comments to those running the social media sites or an adult and, as her poster shows, for students to stand up for one another.
“If it gets so bad that an adult should be there, then they should absolutely be there,” Claire said, “but students should stick up for each other. It’s the right thing to do.”
She also acknowledges that it was difficult for her to find the courage to stand up for herself, though it is much easier to do now because her confidence has grown. She credits her mother and stepfather, Brian Barrett, her father, Tom Farabaugh, as well as her grandparents, Alice and Wayne Padula, for helping her improve her self-esteem.
The youngest of six children, Claire said she has invested so much time on this subject because she wants to help her friends and classmates. She has two older sisters, Samantha, 23, and Nicole, 21, and three older brothers, Matthew, 26, Sean, 25 and Michael, 18.
Claire also believes that those who witness intimidation of any kind, and do nothing to stop it, are just as guilty as those who are doing the bullying.
“One time, I saw a boy in my school being bullied, and I told them to stop calling him names,” she said. In that instance, the bully stopped picking on the boy, without requiring her to alert a teacher.
Claire notes that it has been her experience that, in most cases, all a bully wants is a reaction from a victim. Therefore, she said, one resolution could be for the victims to show the bully that they are not hurt by their words. Other options, she advised, are simply avoiding crossing paths with bullies, or walking together in groups so it is harder for a bully to single out one student.
When it comes to cyberbullying, Claire reiterated that reporting an incident is important every time. Social media websites give users an option to report inappropriate comments to the web curators. Reporting cyberbullying can result in the comments being taken down from a site or blocking the user from the website.
“I am so proud of her,” Ms. Barrett said. “She’s in tune with making mature decisions. You have to appreciate people for their differences.”
Claire’s creation, as well as all of the other winning posters, will be on display in October, which is National Bullying Prevention Month, in the lobby of the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge.