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Working Together to End Bullying Through Self-Realization

April 22, 2013

Social worker Arleene Siegel is spearheading an anti-bullying initiative aimed at educating students at the George L. Cooke and Kenneth L. Rutherford elementary schools. Ms. Siegel, in collaboration with classroom teachers, works with children in small groups to give them a safe place to discuss their feelings.

By sharing their experiences and keeping a journal with their thoughts and concerns, students can ask questions and work through issues, including insecurity, anxiety, fear and/or frustration.

“By changing our behavior, we can change the world. It begins with accepting and respecting others,” said Ms. Siegel during a workshop session with Lynn Selkirk’s fifth grade class (pictured). “You are in control of the situations and solutions. Your reactions directly affect the outcomes. Realizing why you do things is very empowering.”

Anti-bullying initiative

Dignity for All

Ms. Siegel’s initiative is tied to the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) which was implemented throughout New York state this year. The new anti-bullying legislation requires school districts to be proactive in protecting students from being harassed or threatened because of their race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practices, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex. In addition, the law includes a section that addresses the use of the internet and social media as tools for intimidation and cyberbullying.

“Students should feel safe at school and at school activities at all times,” said Director of Physical Education, Health and Athletics Douglas Murphy, who is the district’s DASA coordinator. “It is against school rules for anyone to make another person feel threatened by any means.”

After careful analysis, it was determined that by targeting programs for fourth and fifth graders, the effectiveness of the message would hopefully transfer with them to the middle school arena where bullying seems to be most prominent in school districts. During the middle years, children go through changes and transformations that make them vulnerable to experimentation and risky behavior, including bullying. Research shows that many bullies are actually insecure and lash out at others as a way to make them feel better about themselves, a process that doesn’t work.

According to Ms. Siegel, the anti-bullying workshops have raised awareness of the complexity of the underlying issues. They have also given students a greater understanding of empathy and tolerance, and how we should be proud of our uniqueness.

Anti-bullying initiative

Community Partnerships

To reinforce the school programs, Sullivan County District Attorney Jim Farrell visited Cooke and KLR to speak to students about being good citizens, taking control of what goes on in school, and empowering them to stand up for their peers if they see them being bullied.

“We are all different for a reason,” said Mr. Farrell. “Life would be boring if all the flowers were red.”

Anti-bullying initiative

From right, Principal Sandra Johnson-Fields, Jim Farrell and Arleene Siegel with Cooke teacher Melanie Hector and her fifth grade students.