United against bullying

Districtwide initiative promotes character education


Students in the East Meadow School District came to school dressed in orange on Oct. 9 in a united effort to stand up to bullying. It was Unity Day, a districtwide initiative to promote student camaraderie and character education.

The day’s events were a joint project between district officials and the East Meadow PTA Council, according to council President Tracy Allred-Pulice. While district schools have long held anti-bullying programs and assemblies, Allred-Pulice said she wanted to have a day devoted to anti-bullying throughout the district.

October is known nationally as Bullying Prevention Month, and Oct. 9 was anointed Unity Day by the National Bullying Prevention Center, an organization that helps communities combat bullying.

Allred-Pulice said she asked Superintendent Louis DeAngelo days before the school year began about bringing Unity Day to East Meadow, and that he was all for it. The district bought thousands of orange bracelets to distribute to students. “All the schools are doing the same thing to show unity,” Allred-Pulice said. “It’ll be a reminder to them to do the right thing.”

Each school put its own individual twist on the day’s events, but every school created an orange banner for students to sign, as a pledge to stand up to bullying.

At McVey Elementary School, classes went one by one to the banner in a hallway, where students signed their names. “We’re uniting as one to stop bullying and be upstanding people,” said 10-year-old Shay Stergis.

At Woodland Middle School, Principal James Lethbridge said he read a pledge to students during homeroom sessions before handing out bracelets. “It does demonstrate to the community that we are unified and that we’re addressing [bullying], and working with it,” Lethbridge said.

He added that the school holds similar programs for each of its three grades throughout the year, including Rachel’s Challenge for its sixth-graders, a nationwide anti-bullying program named for Rachel Joy Scott, who died in the Columbine school shooting in Colorado in 1999.

East Meadow High School held assemblies during all nine periods, and Assistant Principal Kristi Detor said the students watched a slideshow and video presentation about bullying, which was followed by a group discussion. Afterward, the students signed their banner. “At the end of the assembly,” Detor said, “I had numerous students coming up and giving me ideas on what they thought would really help this school, and where they thought there were needs.”

Detor ended up making arrangements to meet with 15 or so students on a monthly basis to discuss bullying in the school. “It was one of those days where you didn’t really know where it was going to go,” she said, “and we were so excited with the outcome.”

Other students at McVey agreed that by wearing orange, they were uniting as one to stand up to bullies. “Orange is really colorful, and it makes people stand out,” said Isabel Saffioti, 10. “Bullies target people who stand out. It’s amazing to be a part of.”

“Bullies pick on people who are different,” added Michael Leeb, also 10. “If we all wear orange, then they have to pick on all of us.”

Each school’s banner, Allred-Pulice said, will be further decorated in school art classes, and then be displayed for the remainder of the year. It’s her desire, she said, to make Unity Day an annual event. “This is the beginning,” she said. “This is the start.”

And with orange the dominant color for a day at the district’s schools, it was evident that the students were getting the message. “If we all stood up to it, the bullying would stop,” said Colin Herlihy, a McVey fifth-grader. “Then the world would be a much better place.”