Dr. Karen Siris, the principal of Boardman Elementary School in Oceanside, has long been a champion of trying to stop bullying in schools. She created anti-bullying programs in Oceanside and serves on the taskforce for the state’s Dignity for All Students Act, a new anti-bullying law.
So it makes sense that Siris would co-author a book about students working together to stand up to bullies.
Siris co-wrote “Stand Up!” with Boardman parent Lisa Roth, an allergist with an office in Lynbrook. Roth had previous experience publishing a children’s book. When her son was in kindergarten, it was suggested that parents not bring in cupcakes and sweets to celebrate their child’s birthday, but do something special.
“And I took that very seriously as a parent,” said Roth. “I said, I’m not going to bring in sweets. What can I do that’s meaningful and will add value to my son and the class. And I figured, let me read a book. Then I said no, I’m going to write one.”
Roth read her book, “The Magical Journey,” on her son’s fifth birthday, and she said the teachers cried. “It’s really a dialogue from a parent to a child [to teach them about] different values and morals and ethics,” said Roth.
Siris had met Roth through the school, and turned to her when the idea came to write a book. Roth’s friend Marsha Levitin, an artist, illustrated her first book and the two asked her to illustrate “Stand Up!” as well.
“Lisa gave me quite a challenge when she said, ‘Why don’t we do it from the knees down?’” Levitin said.
The book is from the perspective of a nameless student who sees a bully, Alex, picking on a girl, Jamie. The narrator decides to get a group of students who care about people together to help Jaime. Instead of one student standing up to Alex, the group does. They eat lunch with Jamie and befriend her, coming to her aid when Alex comes to make fun of her. The group standing up to him makes Alex realize that being a bully is wrong.
Siris and Roth finished writing the book last summer. The time since then was taken up by Levitin: researching for her illustrations and then creating them all. Each was a 13-inch by 13-inch pastel drawing, and she created 24 unique ones for the book.
The book has already been purchased by school districts all over Long Island and New York, Siris said, and has spread to districts in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and has even made its way overseas to Europe.
The students in the book who band together form a Caring Majority — something that Siris created at Boardman to help combat bullying. It helps students go from bystanders, people who will just stand around and watch bullying happen, to upstanders — those who will speak out against it.
“I’m hoping that the children will realize the power that they have, even on their own,” Siris said. “And that they can band together and become allies to their peers. It’s our job as educators to give them the strategies to do that. Because we can’t just expect them to know how to do it. We can ask kids to stand up for other kids and speak up, but unless we give them the words and teach them how, it might be difficult.”