Students learn name-calling just isn't funny
Published 8:03 pm, Wednesday, December 15, 2010
When someone calls another student "cinnamon head" because his hair is red, it hurts, a New Milford sophomore told his peers.
His feeling about that experience is just one of the negative aspects of name-calling and making fun of other students learned about Dec. 1 by students at New Milford High School.
It was the eighth year the program was held at New Milford High.
Each year, students share personal experiences of being targeted for abuse and then gather in groups to plan ways to make their school more fellow-student-friendly.
"We don't use the terms `bullying' or `victim,' " said Sandra Vonniessen-Applebee, an ADL-CT trainer. "We use `target,' `perpetrator,' `ally,' and `bystander.' We teach the kids to stop being bystanders and become allies of the targeted student."
A "bystander" watches while another student is being targeted by a "perpetrator," she said.
An "ally" takes action, becoming the ally of the targeted student, getting help or taking him or her out of the situation, Ms. Vonniessen-Applebee explained.
For NMHS sophomore class members, the program provided insights many said had changed their perceptions.
"At first it was surprising how emotional some people were talking about this," said Nathaniel Crumlich, " but then they'd say more about what was happening to them and I'd realize how disturbing what was happening to them actually was."
"People seem not to be accepting of differences in others," said Cody Helgesen. "I think there's a big influence from what people see on television."
Senior Ananya Zutshi, who was one of the program's student facilitators, agreed with Cody.
"So many actors on TV are role models," she said. "If you see someone you admire on TV and they're doing something, saying something cruel -- even if you know it's wrong, some part of you will think it's OK."
For NMHS staff member and program coordinator Kris Kaczka, "Names Day" was important to bring to the school for several reasons.
She liked the student involvement with facilitators from the junior and senior classes and she liked having individual students share their experiences.
"It means so much more to have a student say to their peers, `We can stop this,' than if I say it," Ms. Kaczka explained.
"I like empowering the kids to support targets," she concluded. "Once you empower a target, the perpetrator loses their power."