Mooers Elementary School fifth graders, from left to right, Jacob Steinfeld, Hannah Hemingway, Gabby Dumas, Olivia Gonyo and Faith Guerin, stand in front of one of the anti-bullying posters hanging throughout the school.
MOOERS — Bullying triggers empathy in Hannah Hemingway, who wonders how horrific someone’s life must have been to turn that individual into a monster who now terrorizes others.
“It makes me feel bad,” said the Mooers Elementary School fifth grader.
But she feels even worse for the victim, often someone who is different, such as a child with a disability who already struggles to fit in.
“What we do makes a difference with kids,” Hemingway said.
Mooers Elementary School utilizes a variety of tools to dismantle bullying and create an environment in which students feel safe and thrive.
“Bullying is somebody threatening or punching and somebody being scared to come to school,” said Jacob Steinfeld, another fifth grader. “It scares the other kid and makes them feel bad to know they are being bullied.”
Steinfeld and other Mooers Elementary School students recently participated in the yearly anti-bullying poster contest. Kindergarten through fifth-grade students created posters that conveyed “Be a Buddy – Not a Bully.”
Each grade received first, second and third-place gift cards for the yearly book fair. The winning posters are currently displayed throughout the school.
But this contest is only one of the many activities students participate in to help create and sustain a positive and caring climate in school.
The school also conducts a safe school ambassador program, a group of committed and trained fourth and fifth grade leaders displaying tolerance and respect and helping keep the school safe by reducing bullying behaviors and setting a positive climate.
“Schools should be held accountable, and we have been and are,” said School Counselor Carol LaBarge. “We do a number of things throughout the year to establish a positive climate to promote learning.”
Principal Dennis Rasco pointed out that on July 1, Dignity for all Students comes into effect.
The Dignity for All Students Act, signed into law on Sept. 13, 2010, takes effect this year. It seeks to provide public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment and bullying on school property.
“A parent has the right to expect that when they send their child to school that child will be safe,” Rasco said.
He pointed out paper hands, taped to the wall with names on them that represent a child being recognized for doing something good, another way to create a positive climate at school.
That is vital, given the figures when it comes to bullying.
Approximately 60 percent of middle school students say they have been bullied, while only 16 percent of staff believe students are bullied, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Roughly 160,000 students stay home from school daily due to bullying.
“I think it makes kids feel bad,” said Mooers fifth grader Olivia Gonyo. “It makes them feel worried about coming to school.”
She acts as a big buddy and mentor to second graders at lunch.
Raising awareness reveals the ugly face of bullying and shows students how to help others, said fifth grader Faith Guerin.
Bystanders stand by and watch bullies, said Steinfeld, but students need to stand up and say it is wrong.
For example, said Guerin, it is wrong to make fun of someone because their skin color is different or they have a disability.
Gabby Dumas, also a fifth grader at Mooers Elementary School, agreed. She notices that bullies seem to go after the “weakest link.”
“It is important to get rid of bullying because we want to have a safe school for other kids,” Dumas said.