“A dirty look, a nasty comment, or a physical altercation is not worth a lifetime of negative memories,” state Senator Anthony Williams told the freshman class during an anti-bullying workshop at the Penn Wood High School Cypress Street campus last Thursday.
Joined by two-time world cruiserweight boxing champ, Steve “USS” Cunningham, and stand-up comic, film and actor Michael Blackson (“Next Friday,” “Are We There Yet?”), Williams hosted the second in a series of school-based anti-bullying workshops to help reduce student-on-student violence.
“Michael Blackson and Steve Cunningham were very positive,” said Penn Wood High School 9th Grade Counselor Kristin Tulisiak. “The students were really excited to see those guys here and know they had similar experiences”
According to the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands (REL-NEI), one of 10 Regional Educational Laboratories funded by the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, researchers found that nearly 65 percent of victims said bullying was not reported, either by themselves or others, to teachers or school officials.
“Bullying comes in many forms: electronic, written, physical and verbal,” said Penn Wood High School Vice Principal Seth Brunner.
The workshop was organized in conjunction with Yeadon Borough Council President John Holden, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Reed and William Penn School District board member Robert Wright Sr.
The William Penn School Board has adopted the district’s anti-bullying policy, which all Pennsylvania schools are required to incorporate into their Code of Student Conduct.
The policy must identify disciplinary actions for bullying, designate a school staff person to receive complaints of bullying and make the anti-bullying policy available on the school’s website and posted in every classroom.
All Pennsylvania public schools must provide a copy of its anti-bullying policy to the Office for Safe Schools every year, and review their policy every three years. Additionally, the district must conduct an annual review of that policy with students.
“I support state Senator Williams and his efforts to bring light to this issue,” said Yeadon Borough Council President Holden. “This is one of his many initiatives here in Yeadon that focuses on improving the lives of our youth and community.”
Recognizing that bullying is one of the most commonplace catalysts of youth violence, be it on the part of the bully or retaliation by the victim, Williams encouraged the students to become ambassadors of peace in their school and in their community.
“I became a bully myself,” said 9th-grader Tadia Nicholson of Darby. “I wanted so badly to fit in that I lost sight of what was right and wrong.”
Often spurred by inter-ethnic and territorial conflicts, Penn Wood High School has launched the anti-bullying initiative to address the increased number of students coming from neighboring boroughs and those of African descent, primarily Liberia.
“Being from another country, I was verbally bullied every day,” Blackson said addressing the students. “But the bullies have all ended up dead or in jail.” Know as the African King of Comedy, the Ghanaian-American developed his comedic talent in Philadelphia and is devoted to his foundation, which provides education aid to African children across the continent of Africa.
“Kids and young adults must learn to accept that people are different. People have diverse ideas, beliefs, fashion and appearances,” Nicholson said. “The sooner we can get my generation to grasp that, the better off we will be.”
Williams’ office has partnered with MiND TV to help Penn Wood High School students create anti-bullying public service announcements.
His office and teachers will select the 10 best PSA scripts, which MiND TV will produce in collaboration with the students. The 9th-grade class will select the winning PSA, which will air on MiND TV for a year.