More put-ups and fewer put-downs.
That was the message Old Forge Elementary School Principal Nicole VanLuvender was hoping her students in kindergarten through sixth grade left the Old Forge High School auditorium with on Wednesday, Oct. 10. The elementary school held an assembly on the effects of bullying in observance of Unity Day.
"October is National Bullying Awareness Month, and (today)… is Unity Day, so we decided that we would come together…and the administers had asked our teachers to incorporate lessons throughout the month of October on bullying, bullying awareness and uniting," explained Old Forge High School Assistant Principal Regina Krieger.
In honor of the national campaign, both the high school and elementary school held assemblies and hosted other activities on Wednesday. For the elementary school, VanLuvender tried to explain the effects and dispel some of the myths of bullying.
"Sometimes I think bullying gets stereotyped into the very big kid standing over the little kid saying, ‘Give me your lunch money,'" VanLuvender said to her students.
"That's a bold stereotype that really isn't typical of bullying behavior anymore. Not to say that doesn't happen, but today bullying takes so many more forms. It could be physical…it could (also) be verbal, meaning using your words to put someone down. Put-downs, those wounds….those emotional wounds, you can't see them, because they hurt us on the inside. They're very painful."
VanLuvender and the sixth-grade peer mediators gave a demonstration of the way put-downs can hurt a child, and the assembly closed with the students taking a pledge to stand up against bullying.
"I think it was good," said Nathan Cieslak of the program. "I think it really educated the students about bullying, and how it is bad, and how it affects people."
The subject of bullying is one that's near and dear to Cieslak's own heart. The 10-year-old, fifth-grade student began selling T-shirts featuring a logo of his own design, and the slogan "Only You Can Prevent Bullying" this summer in an effort to create an awareness to the bullying problem.
When he first decided to print the shirts, Cieslak was hoping to sell them to family and friends, but when word got out, the orders started pouring in, and the Old Forge resident has already sold close to 1,000 shirts, exceeding all of his expectations
"I'm very surprised. It escalated to a whole new level. We have people, it (hasn't) really gone national, but we have people from Texas wanting to buy a shirt, which is pretty cool," said Cieslak.
Word of his project made its way to the high school, where seniors Brian Finnerty, Derek Drasba, John Vols and David Rudalavage decided to team up with Cieslak and sell some of the shirts as part of their senior project.
"No matter who you are…everyone at one time or another has dealt with bullying," said Finnerty as to why he got involved with the project.
Cieslak said he's hoping that the involvement of the seniors, and programs like the one held on Unity Day, will help draw more attention to the problem and hopefully have a positive effect on it.
"I think we're just getting the word out, and it's just starting, but I hope to see the numbers of bullying go down," said Cieslak.
One way to see numbers go down is keep reminding students why bullying is wrong. This is one of the reasons why Finnerty, Drasba, Vols and Rudalavage will be visiting the elementary school throughout the year, to continue to spread awareness.
"It's not going to be for just one day or one month, they're going to do it throughout the year," said Krieger.
For more information on Unity Day, visit www.pacer.org/bullying/nbpm/unity-day.asp.