“Your feelings determine what you want, but your actions determine what you get,” professional athlete Tom Murphy told Glens Falls students as he drove home the message that action changes everything when it comes to stopping bullying. The former UFC mixed martial arts competitor is now fighting for students’ well-being—and in some cases, their very lives—as a speaker with the Sweethearts and Heroes anti-bullying organization.
The Sweethearts and Heroes presentations, which were tailored for students at the high school, middle school and third/fourth grade levels, focused on motivating the bystander to action. He challenged students to jump into action when they see someone being intimidated or put down.
“It’s not about the bully,” Mr. Murphy said during his presentation at the High School. “It’s about how the other person is now believing she’s no good, she’s fat, she’s wrong, she’s dumb, and thinking about hurting herself because she believes what the bully has said over and over.” His action plan for students to be someone’s hero includes stepping in to get a victim out of the situation, being a buddy by affirming others, and confronting a problem by seeking help from an adult.
Peers only intervene ten percent of the time they see an intimidating incident, Mr. Murphy said. “But when a hero intervenes within ten seconds of the situation starting, they are successful 60 percent of the time,” he continued.
Mr. Murphy’s presentation repeated in every school September 17 and 18 as a cornerstone to the district’s “Dignity Week,” which placed a unified, collective focus on creating school environments free from discrimination and harassment of any kind. The idea for Dignity Week came about last spring, as teachers and administrators met to plan for the July 1 implementation of the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA). The state law puts a more robust definition on “bullying” and spells out new responsibilities for schools in educating students on tolerance and respect, training staff members on how to handle reports of harassment, and collecting data on incidents.
“We’ve approached this from all angles,” said Director of Curriculum and Instruction Trent Clay, “not to simply comply with the letter of the law, but to get at the spirit of what it means to strengthen the dignity of every student.”
“Our school board updated the policies in our codes of conduct, our faculty and staff members were trained in late August, our principals teamed up to bring one consistent presentation to every student from third grade on, and each school is building upon the anti-bullying message with reinforcement activities,” Mr. Clay said.
Dignity Week started off with a surprise visit from Jimmer Fredette—giving high school students a pep talk on good character, and giving high-fives to middle school students who lined the hallways outside their classrooms. The Fredette Family Foundation provided a T-shirt for every student in the district to wear as a symbol of unity. The 2,200 white T-shirts read “GF Nation” in red on the front, and “Building Character” on the back.
“It is important in all the things you do to make the right choices and have integrity,” Jimmer told the students. “Always encourage each other.”
Students at Kensington Road Elementary worked with children’s songwriter River Jack Zucchini every day of Dignity Week to create an anti-bullying song, an effort similar to Jackson Heights’ “I Am the Power of One” composition with songwriter Brian Chevalier last spring.
As the students brainstormed ideas and lyrics early in the week, River Jack took every opportunity to connect with students—even as some second-grade creativity went on a whim.
“Well, when you’re feeling like you want to throw a fish net on somebody, you need to step outside of yourself and say, ‘is that how I should act?’ Whatever you put out there is what you’re going to get back,” River Jack said.
Large poster boards covered the wall of the library’s computer lab after the students’ brainstorming sessions wrapped up, each with phrases such as “stand up for others,” “share with friends” and “say you’re sorry.”
“Tell the bully something to make them feel good about themselves,” offered one student. “It’s hard to be mean when someone is being nice.”
Dignity-strengthening efforts continue through this year. The Sweethearts and Heroes organization is following up with additional faculty workshops in October and February. “The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm,” said Mr. Murphy, quoting Albert Einstein, “but because of those who look at it without doing anything.”
The Dignity for All Students Act (The Dignity Act) went into effect on July 1, 2012. Its intent is to create more nurturing school environments free of discrimination and harassment. Identified in the legislation are those who are subject to intimidation or abuse based on actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex.
The Dignity Act defines harassment as “creation of a hostile environment by conduct or by verbal threats, intimidation or abuse that has or would have the effect of unreasonably and substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance, opportunities or benefits, or mental, emotional or physical well-being;…” Both students and school staff members are covered under the Act, and its protections apply to all school properties. Each local school district must develop policies and conduct staff trainings in conjunction with the Dignity Act requirements.
From the NYS Education Department’s BROCHURE on the Dignity Act:
For more on the Dignity Act, see these resources: