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bullying

During the week of Oct. 16, the Three Village Central School District celebrated Unity Week. Students participated in activities to promote kindness, acceptance and inclusion. Unity Day fell in the middle of the week, on Oct. 18. Students across the district wore orange as a way to send a visible message to end bullying.

Many of the district’s elementary schools held spirit weeks to get students excited about the Unity Week messaging. Spirit days brought the school communities together and had students dress to different themes including “put a lid on bullying,” where students and staff wore crazy hats. Additionally, students participated in art projects to promote positivity. For example, at Setauket Elementary School, Ms. Muzzonigro had students design balloons with messages of kindness written on them, which were then put together to form a mural.

Unity Day takes place each October, but the Three Village Central School District encourages students to follow its message every day of the year.

By Carolyn Sackstein

TBR News Media went to downtown Port Jefferson, where we asked people if they had ever experienced or witnessed bullying and, if so, how they dealt with it. While some were willing to share their experiences, few were willing to go on the record with their names and photographs.

One gentleman spoke about his child, who has special needs, being bullied. This man said he has experienced blowback for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. He discussed the need for accountability for bad behavior. It was his opinion that without accountability people will continue to bully others. 

One woman expressed her belief that people today act without love in their hearts. Kindness from others helped her to deal with her daughter’s death due to cancer. This lady wears a golden heart, which a stranger gave to her daughter. “It is a reminder to be kind,” the mother said.

Meg Sayers, Bethpage

Meg Sayers

A professional social worker in private practice, Meg works with children who are being bullied. She explained, “Bullying can be detrimental to children. Starting from a young age to adolescence, bullying can affect their self-esteem and mental health. Children who are bullied can experience depression and anxiety.” 

She defined bullying as, “Intentionally saying and taking action to cause harm to other people when they are asked to stop. Even when they are not asked to stop. It can be unintentional.” 

She suggested, “Part of the best coping mechanism is to help a child first identify that they are being bullied and then to help them advocate for themselves by sticking up for themselves or expressing what they are experiencing to others, to adults who can be helpful. Not normalizing bullying.”

Austin Prince

Austin Prince, Yaphank

“Growing up I saw my friends and situations where they were getting bullied. One of the biggest things I learned with it is making sure you’re not just standing by, making sure you’re proactively trying to help them at the time or if need be trying to rectify it later on. Sometimes [it takes] talking with the bully: Where is this coming from? What’s going on in their life? Making sure that the person being bullied is OK.”

Jason and Christine Contino

Jason and Christine Contino, Port Jefferson

Jason, a retired police officer and lead pastor at Harborview Christian Church on East Main Street, said, “I witnessed [bullying] as a police officer. I dealt with it by not only trying to figure out what was happening but getting [victims] to have the courage to come forward, if it got to the point where a criminal complaint was made. Whether it’s a student or somebody who calls the police, they know that the teacher, the principal, the police officer is not always going to be there. If it is someone in their family, they are still going to be interacting with that person.”

“Sometimes the most difficult point is getting them to feel confident in the fact that the system is actually able to protect them.” Christine added, “It is something we instilled in our children — that bullying is not tolerated. Both our boys ended up sticking up for others. … We have to teach our children what is right and wrong. It starts in the home.”

Kurt O’Brien

Kurt O’Brien, Connecticut

“There was always bullying in school growing up. It never happened to me, but I saw it happen to other people. I stuck up for them sometimes. I got beat up a couple of times from it.” Kurt added that bullying in the adult world is about “power, it is more hidden. There is bullying in law enforcement, in the court system, everything. It is not just like going after a little kid’s lunch money.”

Laonie and Noah

Laonie, France and Noah, Port Jefferson

Noah recently returned to Port Jefferson after serving in the military for seven years. “I haven’t seen it in the village recently, but as a kid I definitely noticed it around school. I saw it on the bus when I was a senior. A young kid on the bus was getting bullied by a kid a couple of years older. I did tell the kid to stop. It was pretty evident that it was happening a lot.” 

Laonie said she experienced bullying in primary school. “I was having bad results at school. My mom moved me twice to get better. I was very quiet. I didn’t talk to my parents about it. I just keep it to myself about it. I thought it was almost like normal.” When asked if it has affected her as an adult, she replied, “I actually have a baby, and I am wondering if it happens to him, how am I going to deal with it? Of course, I am going to be more sensitive and emotional. I am going to be more focused on this because I was so shy when I was so little. My mom was so great, but I couldn’t speak to her.”

Anthony Tallini

Anthony Tallini, Coram

Anthony acknowledged that he was bullied for his weight and glasses. “As a kid in high school, I used to be heavier, [called] “four eyes” and “heavy.” Very standard. I just never cared.”

When asked if he had seen bullying as an adult in the workplace or a social setting, he said, “Yeah, I guess. It’s more just being mean. I haven’t stepped in. If it was someone I knew, I would. If it were someone I don’t know, probably not without knowing the relationship.”

 

METRO photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

These are polarizing times. The days of civil conversation around delicate issues are long gone. Social media is a blessing and a curse. As a graduate school educator, it is a blessing if you need to have evidenced-based research in an instant. It is a curse because so much of what is posted is opinion, at best masquerading like it is evidence-based research.

Critical thinking is a thing of the past. Too many people believe whatever they see online, especially if it supports their own position. What happened to the days of genuine give and take conversation? What happened to agreeing to respectfully disagree?

We are still reeling from the pandemic; especially our young people. Mental health and human relations have really been impaired.

No one was prepared for the pandemic’s aftermath. We are still not well equipped or trained to navigate into the future. This present generation of young people is profoundly wounded mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We are failing to prepare them to deal with the divisive world we have created and are living in. 

 Our schools are central to empowering the next generation to wellness and wholeness. Instead of always ripping at our schools and our teachers, we need to work harder at collaboration. We need to be committed to a holistic approach to learning — body, mind and spirit.

Our children should be exposed to evidence-based material in every subject area. We need to be more conscious of the impact, for better or for worse, of the smart phone. That little device can build people up or with the push of a button destroy someone.

At what age should children have a cell phone? What restrictions should be imposed? Should elementary and middle school students have cell phones in class? Should we create universal guidelines in this regard?

The other issue that needs to be addressed is how parents parent their small children with tablets to keep them busy. How and where do our children learn about human connections? How do they learn about their feelings and how to express them?

There has to be a partnership between parents, school and community. Together we need to foster positive human connections grounded in love, respect and radical inclusiveness which our nation is founded on. 

Father Francis Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Two young boys, 10 and 8, were in a local playground last weekend, bouncing on a pogo stick, when four teenagers approached them. “Hey, could we have a turn?” one teen asked. “Sure,” said the older of the two boys, pushing the new toy forward toward them. Some conversation followed, indicating that the boys were Jewish. The teens then began ominously bad mouthing their religion, and one teen took coins out of his pocket and threw them at the boys. They were startled, then scared, and they began to run away. What had started as a fun afternoon will become a lifelong painful memory for the two youngsters.

How sad.

We know children can be cruel. Anyone who has ever read “Lord of the Flies” will certainly agree. But this is more than bullying. This is bullying with hate. And on what basis is that prejudice founded? The afternoon was beautiful, the young boys were generous in their response, and the setting should have been one of neighborly interaction among young people. Instead, it served as an excuse for bias. Where did those teens get their ideas? The deplorable answer is often “from their parents.”

How do we understand prejudice? What prompts it? What inflames it? Why should someone whose skin is one color think they are somehow better than someone of another color? Yet, children are “carefully taught,” to quote the line from “South Pacific.” Do we fear differences? Do we need to feel superior to others in order to be happy with ourselves? Why aren’t we simply judged by what sort of persons we are rather than how we look or what we believe?

Speaking of beliefs, political partisanship is threatening to rip apart our country. Never in my lifetime have people so defined themselves as being of one party or the other as now. We can’t even talk about our differences now. And never has that definition resulted in broken friendships and even broken families as now.

What’s happened to bipartisanship, to working together for greater good, for sharing our flag? Aren’t we all Americans? Don’t we all appreciate what is unique in our country, even as we try to improve its failures? When did the word, “compromise,” become an epithet? While there will always be disagreements about policies and actions, together we have moved forward and accomplished great goals since 1776. Now we can’t even get our facts straight.

The only issue that seems to pull us together is fear of being attacked by some outside force. Congress acts in unison when voting substantial sums of money for Ukraine. Suddenly, on the world stage, we are united and bringing other countries that believe in the rule of law together to oppose the Russian leader. If we can do that for the rest of the globe, why can’t we do that for ourselves? Maybe it’s because we can all agree on the same set of facts, that we are opposed to a fascist leader and his unprovoked assault, and we are afraid of who he may be coming after next?

So this is what we need to get us to work together: a common enemy. Heaven forbid that such a threat should ever materialize at our shores or in our heartland. For by then, it may be too late to undue the grievous harm being done to our nation from within. We are enduring daily shootings and killings of innocent children. Our evening newscasts reveal a society in chaos instead of under an orderly rule of law.

How much of the violence in our current lives is the result of the shouting and insults being hurled back and forth among our leaders? Rhetoric plays an important role in people’s behavior, and the rhetoric we are constantly surrounded by is hate-filled. Our citizens, especially our young, have huge mental challenges. While the coronavirus is partly to blame for the collapse of order and predictability, it is not the only culprit. 

What else is? The immoral, unconscionable grasp for power that fills our airwaves with hate.

Pixabay photo

Many have asked what has happened to us as a society.

As we prepare to remember the victims of 9/11 in just a few weeks, we are reminded of a time 20 years ago when our communities came together to help each other. We applauded our first responders, offered our shoulders to those who were crying and all of us came together as one. The amount of empathy Americans, as well as those around the world, showed for the victims and their families was awe-inspiring. While 9/11 was a day to remember, 9/12 was just as important because it showed that we could be unified. 

However, the tragedies and issues caused by COVID-19 have left us more divided than ever. Many scratch their heads wondering why people won’t follow the guidance of medical professionals, who last year simply asked us to wear masks and social distance while they figured out the best line of defense against the virus. Despite the significant strides made in medicine over the last few decades, a new form of a virus can still take time to figure out. And then this year, finally the vaccine that we all were waiting for was released, but yet many have refused to get it to help the common good and themselves.

It seems at times we have become selfish and self-absorbed, not worrying about anyone but ourselves. Then again, we shouldn’t be surprised. Look at our roads. More and more drivers engage in reckless driving, whether speeding down the road, weaving in and out of traffic, not pulling over for emergency vehicles or blowing through red lights and stop signs.

In the days of social media, we see too many people believing that their way is the only way and that those who think differently to them are evil or stupid to a point where we don’t respect our fellow citizens.

We have become so selfish and judgmental at times that we forget when we step out our door it’s no longer about us. The world does not revolve around one person, not even one family or social circle. As we navigate through the day, while our feelings and beliefs are valid and should be respected, the same goes for respecting others. We should also listen to each other. Really listen. It can be difficult at times to balance our wants and needs with the desires of others, but it’s the only way we can live together in peace.

Many have said they don’t want a new normal — they just want normal. Yet, it seems as if a new normal is needed, one where people’s actions show that they care about those around them.

It’s been said that learning about our history is important, so we don’t repeat the mistakes of past generations and benefit from the good elements, too. Now, let’s remember the tragic event of 9/11 and its aftermath in order to be reminded of how we united and moved forward during one of the most difficult times in American history.

We did it then and we can do it again — together.  

East Northport Middle School invited sixth graders from Northport Middle School to view a Theatre Three theatrical touring production of “Class Dismissed: The Bullying Project” on Jan. 9.

Performers acted out scenarios to demonstrate that bullying, harassment and peer pressure can occur both inside and outside of school, including hallways, locker rooms, buses and even at home. Additionally, the production spoke about the influence social media has on one’s reputation, social cliques and rumors.

The production’s main message, however, was, “See it, say it, stop it.” The intention was to encourage students to stand up for each other to put an end to bullying. During a Q&A after the performance, the performers advised the middle school students to be upstanders rather than bystanders. “You really are the ones that can make a difference,” they said.

Theatre Three’s Educational Touring Company is available to come to your school or organization. For more information, call Marci at 631-928-9202.

Photos courtesy of the Northport-East Northport School District

Coolsmiles Orthodontics in Port Jeff is hosting an event aimed at examining the causes and identifying solutions for bullying. Stock photo

Orthodontists are usually tasked with improving young peoples’ smiles, but the partners of a Port Jefferson practice are taking patient well-being a step further.

Coolsmiles Orthodontics in Port Jefferson is sponsoring an event entitled “End Bullying Now: Here’s How” at 7 p.m. Nov. 5 at Port Jefferson Village Center, a lecture that will be conducted by Jessie Klein, an associate professor of sociology at Adelphi University and author of the 2012 book “The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America’s Schools.”

The practice will cover the cost of renting the space for the forum and hiring Klein, and the event is open to the public free of charge.

Dr. David Amram, one of the practice’s partners along with Dr. Justin Ohnigan, said he has always viewed his job as not only improving patients’ teeth, but also impacting their overall self-esteem and well-being as a whole.

“When I was younger I had a really great relationship with my orthodontist,” Amram said, which has led him to view his responsibility as broader than just teeth. “I realized what kind of impact that [self-esteem] change could have on an individual.”

Amram said the practice regularly has discussions about trips and events it should sponsor that are meant to foster positivity and build relationships with the families who visit Coolsmiles, like outings to Long Island Ducks baseball games and other similar events and trips. He said the practice’s exposure to dozens of kids everyday inspired them to tailor an event around an anti-bullying message. He shared a story from a young patient that he said has stuck with him.

“One kid asked for a specific kind of jacket for the holidays, he wanted the jacket and he was wearing it, and then it was gone,” Amram recalled. He said the child explained he stopped wearing the jacket he couldn’t wait to get because other kids made fun of it. “I saw that in him and it was heartbreaking … The need for this kind of thing is striking.”

Klein said she is still in the process of planning how the event will actually play out, but summed up the theme as a look at what goes on in society to encourage that kind of behavior from bullies from a psychological and sociological perspective, and to examine ways to foster a more compassionate society. She said she hopes the forum inspires parents to talk to their kids whether they’re being bullied or displaying signs they may be bullies themselves. She called bullying a national epidemic and said more federal and state resources need to be directed toward prevention of the problem, rather than punitive responses and more security to stave off possible school shootings.

“You really need everybody on board with the same message,” she said. Klein commended Coolsmiles for taking on the responsibility of community betterment from the private sector, and setting an example for others, calling their decision to host the event beautiful and positive. “Them stepping up like that is exactly what is needed.”

Those interested in attending can RSVP by email to [email protected] or by calling 631-289-0909 by Oct. 25.

'Stand Up! Stand Out! The Bullying Project'

By Heidi Sutton

Front row, from left, Dylan Robert Poulos, Meg Bush and Jessica Contino; back row, Nicole Bianco in a scene from ‘Alice in Wonderland’

Students have enough on their minds in school without having to worry about being bullied. But according to the latest statistics, an estimated 75 percent of children are bullied at least once during their school career, and 10 to 20 percent of children are bullied repeatedly over a much longer period of time. The effects of this unwanted aggressive distraction can be extremely damaging and may cause changes in behavior, mood and school performance as well as family or social relationships.

That is why Theatre Three’s current production of “Stand Up! Stand Out! The Bullying Project” is such an important and valuable tool in combatting bullying. Used as an educational touring program in schools across Long Island since 2014, the original musical, geared for children in kindergarten through fourth grade, makes a rare appearance on the Mainstage through May 5.

Through the use of live actors, puppets and toe-tapping musical numbers, the audience learns that bullying comes in all shapes and sizes and how to effectively stand up to bullies and not allow others to be victimized.

Meg Bush, Nicole Bianco, Jessica Contino and Eric Hughes in a scene from ‘Cinderella’

Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Douglas J. Quattrock, the story takes place in elementary school where Nellie (Nicole Bianco) is being bullied by Olivia (Jessica Contino), Jayden (Eric Hughes) and Tyler (Dylan Robert Poulos). They call her names, steal her doll, don’t let her sit with them and make her feel left out and unimportant. Peg (Meg Bush) witnesses it all, but peer pressure and the fear of losing her friends prevent her from speaking up.

When Peg gets home, she finds the doll in her backpack, which reminds her of how Nellie is being treated. While doing her homework, she falls asleep and, joined by Nellie’s doll (Steven Uihlein), dreams of being the main character in “Cinderella,” ”Alice in Wonderland,” “The Three Little Pigs” and “The Wizard of Oz.” In each story she becomes the victim of bullying and, in the end, understands what Nellie is going through and takes certain important steps to help her “turn darkness into light.”

Peg ultimately reaches out to the adults in her life because “telling is to get someone out of trouble.”

In introducing last Saturday morning’s performance, Sanzel, who also directs the show, addressed the young children in the audience, saying, “I hope when you go to school, you’ll take the lessons you learned today with you.” I hope the parents will also.

Meet the talented cast in the lobby after the show for photos.

Lena & The Happy Clam Band 

The first half of Theatre Three’s children’s show will feature a sing-along with Lena & The Happy Clam Band. From left, Michael Leuci (guitar), Brian Smith (keyboard), Lena Smith (vocals) and Mike Palumbo (bass guitar) will delight children and parents alike with an interactive concert featuring original songs like “Winter” complete with a snowball fight, a “One Drop in a Bucket” drum quartet and a shadow puppet show. 

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present ‘Stand Up! Stand Out! The Bullying Project” preceded by a sing-along with Lena & The Happy Clam Band on April 28, April 29 (sensory-sensitive performance) and May 5 at 11 a.m.

Children’s theater continues with “Goldilocks — Is That You?” from May 26 to June 9, “The Princess Who Saved a Dragon” from July 6 to Aug. 9 and “Alice’s Most Decidedly Unusual Adventures in Wonderland” from Aug. 3 to 11. All seats are $10, with discounts for groups of 10 or more. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All theater photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Trustee Adam DeWitt resigned from Port Jeff's BOE. File photo by Elana Glowatz

A proposed policy for Port Jefferson schools could change the way teachers interact with and accommodate transgender students.

The board of education’s policy committee crafted the proposal with help from the student body’s Gay-Straight Alliance club, and included rules for how transgender and gender nonconforming students would be referenced in school records and what bathroom and locker room facilities they would use.

According to the proposed text, students who want to be identified by a gender other than the one associated with their sex at birth could request a meeting with their principal to discuss names, pronouns and designations in school records; restroom and locker room access; and participation in sports, among other topics.

Students would be able to change gender designations in school records if they provide two official forms of identification indicating the new gender and legal proof of a change in name or gender.

Emma Martin, the president of the high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, said during the Port Jefferson school board meeting on Tuesday night, “This policy could be the difference between whether a student feels safe in the school, whether their learning is hindered or it’s enriched, whether they graduate high school or even if their life could be saved.”

The proposed policy includes a provision that any student’s transgender status would be kept as private as possible, apart from necessary communication to personnel “so they may respond effectively and appropriately to issues arising in the school.”

In addition, it dictates that the district would have to accept any student’s gender identity.

“There is no medical or mental health diagnosis or treatment threshold that students must meet in order to have their gender identity recognized and respected,” the policy reads. “Every effort should be made to use the preferred names and pronouns consistent with a student’s gender identity. While inadvertent slips or honest mistakes may occur, the intentional and persistent refusal to respect a student’s gender identity is a violation of school district policy.”

Martin called the policy forward thinking.

“Even though I won’t be here to see this in place because I’m a senior — I’ll be leaving — I’m very, very proud to say that this will be in place hopefully when I leave.”

Trustee Adam DeWitt, the head of the policy committee, replied that the policy committee could not have done it without her club: “Your contributions and the students’ contributions as well as the staff were critical in the wording … so your legacy and the legacy of the students and the staff that helped us create this will live on for a long time.”

The school board accepted the policy at first reading on Tuesday and could vote to approve it, making it final, at the next board meeting. Its reception was a quiet one — there was no public comment on the policy apart from Martin’s.

That was not the case in other districts that recently attempted to make similar rules. In the Rocky Point and Smithtown school districts, discussions about accommodating transgender students turned into heated debates.

Superintendent Ken Bossert attributed the lack of controversy in Port Jefferson to the fact that the district took time to shape the policy with the help of input from many parties, and officials took up the matter on their own “without discussing any specific child.”

“That can be very sensitive when the community is fully aware of children who are involved in the discussion and that’s what I really wanted to avoid here.”

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Superintendent James Grossane file photo

The Dignity for All Students Act coordinators for the 2015-16 school year were renewed on Tuesday at Smithtown’s Board of Education meeting.

The Dignity Act is a New York State law that was put into effect in July 2012. It amended section 801-a of state education law regarding instruction in civility, citizenship and character education by expanding the concepts of tolerance, respect for others and dignity.

It is mostly focused on elementary and secondary school students and creates an anti-bully zone at school, school buses and all school functions.

This act is meant to raise awareness and sensitivity in human relations including different weights, race, national origins, religion, ethnic groups, mental and physical abilities, and gender and sexual identification.

This act requires all New York State boards of education to include language addressing the Dignity Act in their codes of conduct. Schools are also responsible for collecting and reporting data regarding material incidents of harassment and discrimination.

“It’s basically an anti-bullying law,” Superintendent James Grossane said after the meeting. “It’s to help with students who are feeling harassed or excluded.”

Coordinators for this act are usually the principals of every school building, according to Grossane.