Advances in technology have taken bullying to a new level, said Dr. Jennifer Yedlin, psychologist at the Lower School of the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway, who has created a new program to teach the school’s fourth- and fifth-graders anti-bullying techniques.
“Technology provides anonymity and adds a new layer to bullying that was not present in the past,” said Yedlin, who recently joined the staff of the Lawrence school, which comprises kindergarten through fifth grade. “Cyberbullying, which the program will also address, can be the scariest kind of bullying because many people can become involved very quickly, whether by mass text messages or through social media.”
The Upstander program, which was implemented when school began last month, promotes awareness of how harmful bullying can be, Yedlin said. “An Upstander is someone who, unlike a bystander, stands up to bullying,” she said. “Upstander behavior includes standing up to a bully, tell[ing] a teacher or other staff member when bullying is happening and ask[ing] friends to include a child who is being left out or ignored.”
Yedlin said that the program uses storybooks, role-play scenarios and craft projects, and asks students to come up with their own definitions of bullying and describe their own bullying experiences. “I think bullying comes from a place of insecurity,” she said. “Often it’s a quest for power from someone who has very little power in their own life, or a way to divert attention away from the bully. It’s my hope that by learning these things at a young age, they will be prepared to face the social challenges of middle school and high school and create a safe environment for all students.”
Lower School Principal Joy Hammer said that today’s schools try to teach beyond the curriculum. “Schools have a responsibility to teach the whole child by addressing their social and emotional needs as well,” she said. “At HAFTR, children participate in weekly social-skills workshops where they learn the tools to build good character. Students learn the importance of being part of a team, stand up for one another and take comfort in knowing the adults around them are here to help.”
Rebecca Jerozolim, a social worker at HAFTR, works closely with fifth-grade girls, discussing thoughts, actions and feelings about bullying. “Through our program, I’m confident, as I have already seen tremendous growth, to create an awareness that was previously lacking for the students,” Jerozolim said. “One that opens up their hearts and minds to better understand the depth behind the feelings and emotions of those who bully and those being bullied, ultimately encouraging them to have control over their thoughts, feelings and actions in a healthy way.”
Yedlin said she hopes to expand the Upstander program to all grades in the Lower School. “If this program is successful, I’ll be working on adapting it for the younger students as well,” she said. “It’s my hope that through this program, they’ll learn to identify when bullying is taking place and take action to stop it.”
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