Something had to be done.
After a string of deaths of South High students that spanned
more than a year, members of the school met in November to
brainstorm ideas to prevent bullying.
That meeting led, among other things, to a movement that
required students to make a pledge that incorporates the slogan: “I
refuse to be a bully, a victim or a bystander.”
The pledge is known as iRefuse and it has been printed on
T-shirts and sold to students and staff, and will soon be available
The brainchild of students Rachael Clark and Carly Weller, the
campaign has convinced 235 students – about a quarter of the
school’s population – to sign the pledge.
“We made our students stand up and be the face of anti-bullying
and be accountable for their own actions, which they can do by
following the iRefuse campaign,” said Clark, a senior.
The students mimicked tv personality Dr. Phil pledge on
anti-bullying when creating iRefuse. The campaign is part of a
districtwide effort to combat bullying by educating administrators,
teachers and, most importantly, students.
“We knew something needed to happen,” Clark said. “We had issues
with student deaths, passing of teachers and administrators. Our
schools were faced with quite a development.”
Many local schools have taken steps to address bullying. Experts
have spoken at assemblies to promote good behavior and warn
students and adults on the effects of bullying.
Administrators and teachers have received training on ways to
discover bullying, to prevent it, and help the victims. School
districts have created groups to study solutions to bullying, and
done surveys of students.
Part of the reason for the focus on bullying is the growing
problem of students using text messages, emails and social
networking websites such as Facebook to attack one another.
Cyberbullying is difficult to address because it often happens
through the night, but is brought into the schools the next
School officials have been aggressive with their anti-bullying
tactics, but perhaps more so at the South Glens Falls Central
Over the course of slightly more than a year, beginning in
November 2009, six students from the district died. Three were
killed in car accidents. The others died suddenly and
Those three sudden deaths have not been confirmed publicly as
suicides, but officials have confirmed privately that two were
suicides. After the deaths, the school and community have focused
on suicide prevention, especially among teens.
Morale among students and adults took a hit with each death.
A Suicide Awareness Night was put on at the high school. At a
separate event, hospice counselors spoke to the community about
coping with grief and loss.
Herman Boone, a former high school football coach whose life
story was the basis for the film, “Remember the Titans,” was
brought to the school to discuss respect, courage and overcoming
The high school staff has been trained to recognize signs of
people who may be suicidal. The school’s counselors have spoken in
classrooms to raise awareness of teen depression.
An ad hoc committee has been formed to look at events that will
teach students to think of respect, responsibility, trust and
caring when they show Bulldog pride. Bulldogs are the district’s
Experts have trained school officials on anti-bullying practices
and teaching good character. These efforts are being taken not just
at the high school, but at the elementary and middle school levels,
A coalition of representatives from the school and community
groups has formed to come up with anti-bullying strategies.
And then there’s iRefuse, which students and school officials
hope will continue to generate pledges and results. The school has
ordered a third set of iRefuse T-shirts. The proceeds from their
sale go toward funding anti-bullying events.
Carla Biviano, the high school principal, said iRefuse has
heightened the awareness of the damage bullying can do to people.
In the past, it was hard to get students to come forward if they
saw acts of bullying, but not now, she said – not since the
“We’ve seen an increase in the number of students reporting
bullying. They are not being bystanders any more. They are being
proactive,” Biviano said.
For anti-bullying strategies to work, they have to be repeated,
“One thing we have to realize is, whenever you are doing any
kind of initiative, in particular a bullying component, it has to
be an ongoing, constant message,” said Jean Tedesco, the district’s
assistant superintendent. “It can’t be a one-time thing. It has to
Officials at other local schools are searching for ways to
hammer home the same message.
At the Glens Falls City School District, officials formed a
committee to look at bullying. Students were surveyed and teachers
were trained to recognize bullying.
During a recent school day, state police Trooper George Murphy
spoke to high school and middle school students about sexting and
Murphy, who speaks at schools across the state, said bullies, in
most cases, harass other people to make up for their own
inadequacies. Cyberbullying is more dangerous than physical
bullying, which is easier to notice, he said.
“The things you do to people have long-term consequences,” he
told 800 students at the high school. “It’s not what you say, it’s
how the person you say it to perceives it.”
Murphy said thousands of deaths every year are tied to bullying,
with most of the deaths a result of suicide.
Anger and denial
Officials are cracking down on students who claim their comments
to others are meant as jokes.
“I think some kids are unintentional bullies. They think it’s a
joke,” said Amanda Davie, a psychologist at the Johnsburg Central
School and a co-leader of an anti-bullying committee at the
In January, Johnsburg brought in John Halligan of Essex
Junction, Vt., to speak at an assembly attended by students from
five other school districts.
Halligan began speaking about bullying to schools across the
country following the suicide of his 13-year-old son, Ryan, who
killed himself in 2003 after he was cyberbullied. Halligan’s
presentation brought Johnsburg students to tears.
One day each month, Johnsburg students wear red to promote
anti-bullying. Later this month, students are holding a “No Name
Calling” week to promote kindness to others.
Johnsburg’s committee wants to organize a dramatization next
year on a day in the life of a bullied student. That project is in
its infancy, Davie said.
In addressing bullying, Davie said, it’s important to talk to
students who witness the act.
“We want to talk directly to the bystanders because those are
the people who could have stepped in and made a situation
different,” Davie said.
Some school officials have had trouble in addressing bullying,
which can be hard when parents won’t help.
“I have found many of these parents to be in major denial of
their child being a bully,” said Kelly McHugh, the principal at
Whitehall High School. “This makes it harder for schools. They
(parents) do a lot of blaming of others.”
All the school can do is notify parents when bullying occurs,
Whitehall teachers have read a book called, “Please Stop
Laughing At Me,” by Jodee Blanco, who wrote about her troubled
childhood, when she was a target for bullies.
McHugh said the book has heightened awareness of bullying among
teachers, who were so moved by Blanco’s tale that they invited her
to speak to students and the community later in March.
When someone is bullied, the school wants to find the victim,
the bully, and the bystander, McHugh said.
Students identified as chronic bullies have to talk to a
counselor or a teacher who is close to them about problems they
face at home.
“You don’t become a bully by receiving a lot of love at home,”
McHugh said. “Typically, something happens at home to make the
Tomorrow: Read about Trevor Marsicano, who went from bullied
middle-schooler to Olympic speedskater.