Anti-harassment committee gains interest and focus
WEBUTUCK â€” At the first community meeting following an anti-harassment presentation at the Webutuck Central School District, there were five attendees.
At the second, held last Wednesday, May 26, there were nearly 20, a strong indication the community is taking a vested interest in student education and improving the school climate.
Parents, students, teachers, district taxpayers and school administration were all represented at the meeting, held in the Webutuck High School library. High School Vice Principal Rob Wood led the discussions, which began as a series of updates regarding school initiatives already in progress and concluded with the informal group talking about its purpose as a committee.
School climate was first specifically addressed this year by Webutuck with a presentation by Rachelâ€™s Challenge, a not-for-profit organization founded by the family of the first student killed in the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. An initial day of presentations was held in March for the high school, middle school and surrounding community.
Wood, who played a major role in bringing Rachelâ€™s Challenge to Webutuck, said that the presentation worked as a catalyst to bring issues to the surface.
â€œThere were a number of kids who came forward [after the presentation] expressing the fact that they were being bullied,â€ he said. â€œI think the presentation gave them the courage to come forward.â€
Following that first contact, a local Friends of Rachel chapter was founded at Webutuck. That focus group of students will spearhead the student movement toward improving school climate and sustain momentum from the initial presentation.
Friends of Rachel is advised by Webutuck teachers Steven Pollack, the lead adviser, and Alyssa Barnes, both of whom were present at the May 26 meeting. It has met several times since the presentation and consists mostly of eighth- and ninth-graders, Pollack said. He mentioned student initiatives that have already taken place, like welcoming three students from a family who had just moved into the school district over the schoolâ€™s loudspeaker system one morning. Those ideas, ones that come from the students themselves, are most important to the success of the program, he stressed.
A revamped student council is being put together in time for the 2010-11 school year. Twenty nomination slips have already been taken by interested students, and as many students could make up the councilâ€™s body, Wood added.
â€œWe want to get kids that are not the normal kids who would run for class office,â€ he explained, â€œand will be committed to doing this.â€
The student council would vote on a president and vice president, with the goal being that the student body will take more of an active interest in all aspects of their school.
School social worker Tom Marshall praised the studentsâ€™ â€œresilienceâ€ in working through what he called an â€œinterestingâ€ year, and said it was very important that parents and community members show their commitment to the students.
â€œStudents need to see that youâ€™re invested in them,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m amazed at the receptivity of the current administration to take a look at these issues. Theyâ€™re very open to this.â€
One thing everyone agreed upon is that the schoolâ€™s code of conduct has to be across the board, reaching all grade levels. Another idea is that success can be found only with effort and participation from each of the different demographics: students, teachers, administrators, parents and the community.
Twelve-year-old Jade Giordano is a middle school student and was a target of bullying from classmates at Webutuck. She transferred to a parochial school earlier this year, but she and her family were present at the meeting to share their feelings and ideas.
â€œA lot of people are brought up to believe other races are nothing but dirty heathens!â€ she said, adding that she believed that bullying, harassment and discrimination are learned from parents. â€œChange has to start at home.â€
â€œYour wisdom is something we need to share with other parents,â€ Marshall said, applauding her.
The social worker came up with a set of purposes for the committee through comments made that evening: accountability, positive ethical behavior and diversity education. All three ideals apply to each demographic involved in the schoolâ€™s well-being and formed the basis of last weekâ€™s discussion. Working to meet those goals, the group agreed, will mold the actions of the committee in the future.
Another meeting will be scheduled in June, Wood said. He was adamant that Steven Schoonmaker, who will become the districtâ€™s new superintendent on July 1, be in attendance to ensure fluidity during the administrative transition this summer. More specific information on that meeting will be published in The Millerton News when it becomes available, as well as on the schoolâ€™s Web site at webutuckschools.org.