Jul 28, 2014
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If It's Mean, Intervene

Western Middle School Students call bullying a "huge, ugly problem."

If It's Mean, Intervene If It's Mean, Intervene

Don't Stand By - Stand Up!

The Western Middle School Student Council has offered this challenge to the community letting "all students, teachers, staff and parents know that (they) are here to help" with the issue of bullying.

The group of students have called a spade and the spade  - in this case calling "bullying is a serious problem" and have initiated a concerted effort into launching a school wide stance against bullying.

The result - a powerful and moving presentation, given on Friday to parents and district administrators, that was first shown to the 6th- and 7th-graders and then to the 8th-grade students before the holiday break last month.

"Each and every one of us can make a difference in the fight against bullying"

Western Assistant Principal Al Sackey prefaced the students' presentation with that message and explained how the project, which was created, produced and designed entirely by the students themselves, came about and where it is going from here. He credited Diana Willie, Western social studies teacher, and Lora Parisi, Western guidance counselor.

The duo worked with a total of 14 students (out of the 20 on student council) on the bullying presentation and accompanying brochures and materials. Willie and Parisi are the Western faculty who oversee their Advisor Base, which is similar to a "homeroom," for Student Council.

The impetus for the project stemmed from some "mean-spirited" behavior that was occurring in Willie's classroom last year. Given the district's (and the state's) focus on a safe school climate, Willie felt that the topic was timely one for the group to examine and present to their peers.

Research, Collaboration and Video Editing

"First the students researched different scenarios and statistics for both cyber-bullying and standard mean behaviors," said Willie and Parisi. Collaboration was the next step after the information was chosen; "We collaborated on the presentation method, choosing different songs, quotes and stories that we felt would have an impact on our audience."

The cyber-bullying video included in the presentation was created by 7th-graders Megan Imperato, Lexi Addison and Shiroi Mochizuki used iMovie to edit the movie.

Teachers - Role Models Who Open Up

A segment titled "WMS says, Hang in There!" highlighted teachers sharing their "stories and experiences centered around overcoming mean spirited behavior." Alexis Tatore, an 8th grader, filmed the teachers, with video editing  by 6th-grader Jesse Horowitz.

Tatore said that the experience of filming the teachers "was eye opening while watching the teachers describe their personal experiences. While they were pouring their hearts out, I analyzed who they grew up to be. For example, Mrs. Drumm was timid as a child, but she is now animated. Even though bullying is a malicious act, it was nice to see that one silver lining."

All of the students were involved in the creation of the presentation in that they adding voice-overs, personal thank you messages and amazing, creative ideas to produce the final product.

In addition to those named above, the following students participated in the development of and actual presentation: Jeff Hanley, Rene Jameson, Alec Miller, Lizzie Cid, Allison Frenz, Matt Rogers, Dominique Gambino, Carlyn Marinaccio and Kiersten Yusi. 

Attending the presentation were interim Schools Superintendent Roger Lulow, Deputy Superintendent Ellen Flanagan, Director or Pupil Personnel Services Mary Forde, Director of Human Resources Dr. Lichtenfeld, Program Coordinator for Special Education Kathy Coon and Board of Education member Barbara O'Neill.

Lulow reflected that "the messages that they delivered - if you see bullying you should stop it, if you are being bullied you should report it, and that you can control your own destiny - are important messages for all young people to hear."

Chief of Police Jim Heavey, who is also a Western parent attended. He commended the students for demonstrating character and providing good examples to their peers.

Parent's reactions

For Dawn Marinaccio, whose 6th-grader Caryln participated, the role of adults and particularly parents is not just to try and prevent bullying, but also to empower "children to cope, and build their own self confidence and worth."

Helping youth develop strong cores, Marinaccio said, is the "best defense, because there will always be mean spirit. You can't deny that bullying exists even in the work place and to succeed as a professional you need to have the confidence to see it for what it is."

Like other adults in the room, Marinaccio was "pleased that the presentation addressed" coping strategies like "tell your parents, tell a teacher, etc." 

Another Western parent Kristen Addison said "I thought the students did an amazing job on their presentation this afternoon. It was truly inspiring and thought provoking, especially coming from our kids."

Addison realistically added that "bullying is more serious than some people want to admit and educating our students and the rest of the community is the best way to help end it."

7th grader Lexi Addison who was part of the Western presentation said, "I hope that this presentation serves to help people and move students to take action. Even if it just makes a difference for one person, it's worth it."

Road Show

The Western Student Council is literally taking their show on the road on Tuesday when they will attend an all-day conference at Wesleyan University for the Connecticut Association of Schools Middle Level School Leadership Conference. Sackey proudly told the parents and administrators that Western will be the only middle school to be presenting at the conference to more than 250 middle school student council leaders from around the state.

At the end of the day, it is about creating nurturing and safe environments for students. Willie said the moral of the story to students, parents and the community is "you can make a difference" when it comes to bullying.

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