Names Can Hurt Us Day focuses on bullying

Students at North Street School enjoyed a community walk

Students at North Street School enjoyed a community walk

Bullying is an issue that parents, teachers and students of all levels should remain conscious of, and to that end, Greenwich Public Schools recognized Names Can Hurt Us Day last week.

The event is a district-wide initiative, covering all schools and all grade levels, that incorporates special learning plans and activities meant to reinforce the district’s core values, most specifically, care for others.

Nationally, the Department of Education and Center for Disease Control report that 28% of students in grades six to 12 have experienced bullying, and 70.6% of students have witnessed it in their schools. Though this was the 12th annual Names Can Hurt Us Day, Greenwich’s schools are certainly not immune to bullying. Tragically, Greenwich High School student Bart Palosz was repeatedly bullied and took his own life after the first day of classes last year.

That suicide was the catalyst that sparked a townwide conversation as to how the district handles incidents of bullying, and how they can be better addressed moving forward. Now a year removed from a student’s tragic death, the effort to educate and raise awareness continues.

At Greenwich High School, freshman students gathered in the auditorium to hear from panelists on how bullying can be overcome. Students were then given an opportunity to share their experiences with being bullied, or even apologize for incidents that they were involved in during the auditorium session, or in small groups afterwards.

“We spend the entire day with the freshman class focused on the small things that you do that have a large impact on the people around you,” GHS Headmaster Christopher Winters said. “Acts as small as including someone in lunch and being nice to somebody, to acts where someone is actually being the perpatrator in bullying.”

Early education is one of the most effective methods for preventing bullying. By gaining a firm understanding of how to care for others, students at the elementary level develop attitudes that stop bullying before it starts. Staff at the North Street School promoted that sort of understanding during an outdoor event for Names Can Hurt Us Day.

Encouraged by the school’s physical education teachers, fifth grade students at North Street created their own anti-bullying posters for the rest of the school to see. They were placed outside on display while children in the other grades met up with their own friends for a bit of outdoor fun. The hope was that the creativity and leadership displayed by the older students would further reinforce the anti-bullying message of the day. Students were also encouraged to wear gray as a show of solidarity.

“We know that the younger kids look to the older kids; we want to build on our community and the influence that our older kids have,” Assistant Principal Mary Grandville said.

Names Can Hurt Us Day provided educators with an opportunity to utilize all of the district’s core principles, which are Be Here, Be Safe, Be Honest, Care for Self and Others, Let Go, and Move On. By highlighting the importance of each element, North Street School is helping to create a safe environment beginning from the earliest school years.

“We use the language at school; we encourage our parents to use the same language at home,” Ms. Grandville said. “We’re trying to incorporate that language from the home to school, and then from the school to the middle school and high school. We want this language to be carried forward so it becomes a part of who the kids are, and what they know and what they exemplify each day.”

Teaching students to care for one another is an important step in preventing bullying, since adults are often left unaware when these incidents occur. Physical bullying accounts for only a portion of the abuse that children may face from one another.

Name calling, teasing and the spread of rumors and lies are all more common forms of bullying than actual physical violence, and only about 20% to 30% of students notify adults that they are being bullied.  Additionally, more girls (26.1%) than boys (17.9%) reported being bullied on school grounds in the state of Connecticut.

Students who are proven to have bullied another classmate are subject to expulsion under the district’s zero-tolerance policy, and a number of community resources are available to victims of bullying through their schools, local organizations such as Greenwich United Way and the town’s Department of Children and Families.

Though the attention surrounding the danger of bullying in the town’s schools has waned, the issue remains pertinent on a national and local scale. Names Can Hurt Us Day remains a positive reminder that Greenwich Public Schools have not forgotten about the importance of anti-bullying education, and the value of caring for each other.

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