"If someone feels bad, they want everyone else to feel the same way.”
That was one 7th-grade boy’s explanation to 250 of his peers when asked, “Why do bullies think it’s okay to bully?” at the UFT’s second annual anti-bullying conference.
Students from 22 middle schools representing all five boroughs gathered for the event at union headquarters in Manhattan on May 9. Sponsored by the Municipal Credit Union, the conference featured workshops and a presentation from Miss New York 2018 Rahmeka Cox, who invited students onstage to answer questions about bullying. To the children’s delight, the event also featured music, dancing, pizza and raffle prizes.
The 7th- and 8th-grade students were invited to the conference by teachers who “saw some kind of leadership quality in them,” said Richard Mantell, the UFT vice president for middle schools. “The hope is that the kids will take what they learned, go back to their schools and help other students who are being bullied.”
Itzel Inniss, a social worker at Kappa V in Brownsville, Brooklyn, said before the day was over, her students already were talking about how to help their peers “feel included” and “be upstanders rather than bystanders” when they see bullying in their school.
Workshops were offered by the New York Police Department, Operation Respect, the UFT anti-bullying BRAVE program, Day One, STOMP Out Bullying and the UFT Member Assistance Program. They addressed themes including bystander intervention, cyber-bullying, how to document and report bullying, healthy relationships and affirmative consent.
Anthony Harmon, the UFT’s director of community and parent outreach, said he hopes the conference “makes an impact at an early age about the dangers of bullying” and what can be done to address it.
“Bullying has been around forever and people are finally realizing what a problem it is,” Mantell said. As a union of educators, he said, “it’s important for us to take the lead in confronting it.”
Cathy Sarlo, a teacher and the chapter leader at IS 10 in Astoria, Queens, said her students had a great day attending informative workshops about communication and bystander intervention. Thanks to what they learned, Sarlo expects her students to “find value in themselves and stand up to bullying.”