“If you see something, say something,” said Terri Leno, a member of the Parents Club at St. Thomas the Apostle School in West Hempstead.
This was the message Leno promoted in her speech at the school’s sixth annual anti-bullying campaign on Oct. 25. Since 2012, when the Dignity Act — a state law that enforces a zero-tolerance policy for student discrimination and bullying — went into effect, St. Thomas has promoted the legislation through the campaign.
This year, the school used the hash tag #WeStand-WithLiam to show support for Liam O’Brien, a Garden City Middle School student who recently acknowledged that he had been bullied. More than 100 students in grades six through eight listened as Leno spoke about Liam’s bullying incident, and pointed out that many other students on Long Island have suffered through similar situations.
“We wanted students to realize that bullying is a very real thing,” Leno said, “and we tried to represent that through the story of Liam O’Brien. We need to help out our fellow students even if they’re not, per say, a friend of ours. We’re all friends and citizens of this world with each other.”
“It’s definitely something that any student deals with on a daily basis,” said Kristina Duhs, a teacher at St. Thomas, “so it’s very important for them to know how to deal with it and ways to prevent it.”
After Leno spoke, she asked students to face one another and say, “If I see something, I will say something.” Then they broke up into groups with their teachers to discuss tolerance, diversity, compassion and understanding. Teachers also shared tips on ways for students to speak up when something happens to them or a classmate.
“I explained to them that this is not only a promise that you’re making to them,” Leno said of the see-something-say-something pledge, “but also a promise that bullies won’t get away with this, and that bullying is not accepted here.”
She added that bullies only act when a student is alone, and that togetherness is key in preventing future incidents.
In the days after the campaign began, Leno said, students created messages for Liam and drawings in the schoolyard to show their support. She said she hoped that the buzz around the school would last for more than a week.
“We’re hoping that it’s just a way of living, and that they realize that and take this to heart,” Leno said. “Anybody could stand behind this, but what they need to do in the days ahead is to remember the promise that they made.”