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BHS principal and student share new ways to make students feel heard at Batavia City School District

By Joanne Beck


Batavia High School senior and school board student representative Kylie Tatarka prepared board members Thursday that there were both positive and negative items in her monthly report. 

The positive was that many school activities — high school football games, boy and girl swim teams, a production of Sherlock Holmes — “have been very successful,” Tatarka said. 

“And now, due to the pamphlet,” she said during the board’s December meeting at BHS. “Students have expressed a lack of safety due to that situation, which was addressed by our administration.”

That “situation” was two weeks ago, when some students, who were frustrated by what they believed was inaction to bullying by the district, created written materials and began to organize a walk-out. Social media buzzed with comments as the school ended up closing for a day following the perceptions of threats of violence and after the distribution of those materials. The district closed Dec. 3 after reports of threats of violence at buildings in the district began circulating on social media.

On the plus side, high school counselors visited classrooms to understand how students have been feeling, Tatarka said, and how the district could potentially make them feel safer. 

“This process went well, where many kids said they finally felt heard by this administration,” she said. “Students go through a lot of stress, especially right now, and we need adults to help go through this together. Communication and trust is key.”

As a senior with little time left in school before graduation, Tatarka still looks forward to seeing a change, she said, “especially for my friends, my peers and my own sibling who goes to school with me.” She was also speaking up for those younger classmates that will remain in school behind her. 

“So I urge you all to think about students first,” she said.

High School Principal Paul Kesler reiterated the student ex-officio's remarks about how counselors went into each social studies class to give all students an opportunity to express their feelings, thoughts and concerns. 

“Their struggle right now is real, they’re feeling a sense of loss in many ways, our staff is feeling that also,” Kesler said. “This is a good time to get some feedback on that.”

There were positive and negative comments, and suggestions  to be followed up on next year, he said. Bullying specifically wasn’t the hot topic, he said, whereas the effects of COVID-19 and the related distancing policy this past year seemed to have a bigger impact on students, he said. 

“A lot of feedback came back in terms of student’s mental health. I have seen that mental health needs have increased. Students have felt the loss of activities, like not having traditional school dances,” he said, listing some of the students’ suggestions. “They talked about public affirmation of the great things that they’re doing; publicize those on announcements more. They want more classroom meetings. It’s important to hear from marginalized students.” 

Another suggestion, indicative of youth’s technological savvy, was to create a check-in sheet with a bar code so that students can remain anonymous while reaching out for help and/or to share concerns about someone else. The feedback so far was a good start, Kesler said, and counselors will be revisiting with students in a similar way in late January.

“All in all, I’m really proud of our students,” he said. “They’ve been really resilient in difficult situations.”

While on the topic of student safety, Interim Superintendent Scott Bischoping referred to a TikTok message that has been circulating nationally.  The Federal Bureau of Investigations and law enforcement concluded that any such threat is unfounded, he said. City police are aware of the post and will monitor the situation, he said.

The popular site TikTok has suggested that school shootings are to take place in a nationwide TikTok school threat challenge on Friday, apparently titled National Shoot Up Your School Day.

The post encourages students to make threats of violence against their school. Some districts are reportedly taking heavier precautions, such as Scotia-Glenville Central School and West Genesee in Syracuse.

Top photo: Batavia High School Principal Paul Kesler reviews the steps taken so far to connect with students, hear them out and develop a list of potential remedies for the void left by COVID-19 protocols. Photo by Howard Owens

Parent urges Batavia City Schools Board to take appropriate action against bullying

By Joanne Beck


Adjusting bullying protocols to better accommodate student needs is in the hands of Batavia City School board members, Rebecca Eldridge says. 

And she urges them and the district at large to work more diligently to improve the way district personnel responds to student accusations of verbal and physical attacks. 

“I stand here tonight on behalf of many students and families whose stories and voices have been dismissed,” she said to the Board of Education during its meeting Thursday at Batavia High School. “Two weeks ago my family became one as well. I implore you to take action for every single student that walks through these halls. Enforce policies for every student every day.”

The story she shared came in between her introduction and final urgings. Her son had been assaulted to the point of a swollen eye, bloody nose, bruised ribs and abrasions to his legs, she said. Yet he, too, was suspended along with the bully for defending himself. Perhaps even more upsetting was that she learned he was sent on to his next class after the attack, and did not receive medical attention until later, she said.

“That is neglect without question,” she said. “Staff failed to report to their superiors, which is school policy.”

Not once but three times her son suffered “intimidation, threats and physical harm” from this bully’s sibling, she said. That history plus this particular assault she highlighted resulted in her son being physically injured and emotionally scarred due to trauma, she said.

The day she learned about the assault, Eldridge received a letter notifying her that her son had been suspended for throwing a basketball at the bully, she said. The bully had been seriously taunting her son for four years, and “the school has done nothing.”

Meanwhile, he has missed out on school academics and sports, she said, as district officials reminded her to “be grateful for two — not five — days suspension.”

“Your son was not the aggressor, but we have to; it’s policy,” Eldridge said, repeating what district officials told her. 

She maintained that the district’s Information Technology and “higher administration” staff confirmed there was audio of the event with her son, and that she was subsequently lied to that there was none. The situation violates school policies, Code of Conduct and the Dignity For All Students Act, she said.

Her son’s record has been expunged, she said, “without conversation or an appeal.” Camera footage has disappeared as prior statements have been recanted, she said. 

Eldridge is looking for a shift in the system.

“Recently students and the community have desperately asked for their voices to be heard, changes to be made,” she said. “Change is in your hands tonight. Students including my son deserve nothing less than that from every one of you.” 

There was no board discussion about the issue after she spoke, however, she told The Batavian after the meeting that she was encouraged by what two board members privately expressed.

“They both thanked me for speaking,” she said. “One said ‘thank you for your courage,’ and the other said ‘I heard you, I heard you.’ I hope me speaking tonight has a positive impact, and brings change for our schools, for our children, and our community. As I said to them, it’s in your hands tonight.”

Parent Lidia Arteaga, who had previously spoken with The Batavian for a related article (Batavia City Schools’ parents speak out about bullying at the district), could not attend the meeting, but agreed with Eldridge’s main message. Arteaga’s daughter has experienced much verbal bullying, she said and deserves to be safe at school. Her daughter had created a pamphlet to raise awareness of the bullying episodes taking place without disciplinary action by the district. Her daughter was suspended for that act.

“Yes, change has to happen,” Arteaga said to The Batavian after the meeting. “Let me tell you that if anyone touches my daughter and they come back with those weak excuses, I will do anything I can to make them pay. I don’t know if change will happen, but I’m proud of my little girl for trying to make a difference. It’s at least opened the door for more communication.”

The Batavian asked Interim Superintendent Scott Bischoping for a response to Eldridge’s accusations, and he could not offer much comment, he said.

“I am unable to discuss a specific student discipline issue,” he said, offering to talk more about the situation in the future. 

Top photo: Parent Rebecca Eldridge urges Batavia City School Board of Education members to take action and ensure the safety of students from bullying during a board meeting Thursday at the high school library. Photo by Howard Owens

Batavia City Schools’ parents speak out about bullying at the district

By Joanne Beck


Editor’s Note: Batavia City School District closed all schools last Friday, Dec. 3, following the perception of threats of violence and after the distribution of student-created literature and a proposed walk-out at Batavia High School. Students wanted to bring awareness to bullying and their belief that district officials were not responding adequately to reported incidents of bullying. The district closed after reports of threats of violence at buildings in the district began circulating on social media. Per a press release issued on Dec. 2, District officials "worked in close collaboration with the Batavia Police Department and made the decision to close the schools out of an abundance of caution." Many parents posted comments on social media and responded to The Batavian’s request for interviews. Parents’ full names and their children’s names are not being used to protect their privacy. 

To read the response of school and district officials to the parents' complaints, click here.

Lidia’s Story …
She would often come home distraught after being verbally taunted at Batavia Middle School.

She would tell her mom that kids called her names and told her to “go back where you came from,” which prompted the teenager to ask why. Why should she want to go back to Texas, she wondered.

No, that’s not what the kids meant, her mom Lidia said. Being of Hispanic and Native American descent, Lidia’s daughter was instead being asked to go back to Mexico, Lidia said.

“She would come home crying, saying ‘I’m from here,’” Lidia said Sunday to The Batavian. “I just want (district leaders) to realize there’s a problem at school. There’s bullying everywhere, and maybe the teachers, the Board of Education, the principals will pay attention.”

Lidia’s family moved from Texas to Batavia six years ago. It was mostly in the middle school that her daughter suffered from name-calling with “racist and homophobic slurs,” her mom said. The teenager, who is also gay, required counseling, a prescription medicine for depression, and, at one point earlier this year, hospitalization for her compounding mental health issues, her mom said. 

When the verbal assaults continued, albeit not quite as harsh as in middle school, the current high school senior finally had enough. She and some friends decided to organize a walk-out, promoted with a flyer, and advertise the bullying wrongs in a pamphlet, both created by Lidia’s daughter. 

She asked her mom what she thought of the idea. It wasn’t just for Lidia’s daughter, but for those others she saw getting bullied as well with nothing being done by the school district. 

“Her biggest concern was a lot of people were getting bullied and no one is doing anything,” Lidia said. “They were alone in this; she felt that maybe having a walk-out might bring it to the attention of others. I told her to go ahead, and I was going to be there. She ruffled some feathers, she put a spotlight on it.”

The pamphlet’s cover page features a Batavia Blue Devil with “Batavia School Kills” at the top. It continues to state “Don’t tell us students to do better. Don’t try to place the blame on us. Staff Members are useless. They don’t care about us.”

Due to the use of students’ names throughout the pamphlet, The Batavian is not going to publish it here. Batavia city schools “allow racism, homophobia, sexism, and misogyny, but won’t allow our shoulders to be exposed,” it states. There are a number of alleged bullying scenarios described, including boys yelling homophobic comments, someone being screamed at to kill him/herself by another student, and using "nig- - -," "faggot" and "stupid Jew" to describe fellow students. 

There are some educational components of defining particular words, such as ableist, transphobic, racism, sexist and anti-Semitic. A couple pages have big bold letters asking “What the F- - -.”

Lidia’s daughter has been suspended from school for violating the Code of Conduct. She will receive tutoring at a site away from the high school for an indefinite period of time. Her mom is still waiting for instructions from the district administration. 

Holly’s Story …
Bullying with no repercussions seems to be a common complaint amongst parents and their children. Holly has two children in the district and one who graduated two years ago. The 10th-grader is bi-racial and diagnosed with autism spectrum. 

Bullying has driven her online, her mom says. 

As the victim of consistent racist name-calling — with no end in sight — the 15-year-old withdrew from the brick and mortar school in May and studies completely online now. 

“So a lot of people don’t know that I had been basically bullied out of school due to racism, being called names such as ‘nig- - -‘ and ‘monkey,’ she said in an online post provided to The Batavian by her mother. 

Although her daughter told teachers and counselors about the situation, she contends that the alleged bully remained in school with no apparent accountability, Holly said. 

“They were aware of it,” she said. “The situation continued.”

Her daughter ended up making some poor choices in response to the verbal attacks, her mom said, and is willing to face the consequences.  District leaders “were quick to give her suspension,” she said, but what about the other student?

“She continues to say things,” mom said of the alleged bully.

Both Lidia and Holly said that their children were offered a solution of removing themselves from the classroom and/or hanging out in a counselor’s office. Only problem with that was her child’s bully would sometimes also be in that counselor’s office, Holly said. 

She discussed the issue with district leaders in May and June of this year, without an acceptable solution, Holly said. And although she admits that her child is not perfect, she would like to see more being done to address bullying. 

“I think awareness definitely needs to take place,” she said. “My frustration is there’s a zero-tolerance policy.”

That means if two students get into a physical altercation, even if one of them was defending him/herself, that person could also get penalized. Holly feels that’s unfair.

“I think when these kids go to the teachers, there should be some kind of mediation between all parties involved,” she said. “Kids lose faith in the system if they’re going to teachers and nothing can be done. The BHS principal said that anyone who walks out will be suspended. Kids wanted to peacefully protest bullying. What’s being done about her being bullied?”

Regardless of district action, or inaction according to parents, both daughters weren’t going to wait around for someone else to help them. Lidia’s daughter drafted the printed literature to distribute, and Holly’s daughter created a petition at

The online petition, posted publicly by Ellie, has received 84 votes so far, with a total of 100 being sought. Her reason wasn’t “so much of being safe, but I’ll feel better as a person if I wasn’t attacked in school for my skin color,” she explained in the petition. She went on to request that “the student who has been racist to a lot of students at my school and me” be removed from school. 

“It’s not fair that students who have been attacked with racism by this person go to school and not know if this person is going to say those things again,” she said, adding that it’s not acceptable.  

Sherri’s Story …
For Sherri’s daughter, she opted to get physical. After dealing with a boy’s ongoing sexual harassment in her junior year, the girl slapped him in the face after first attempting to confront the bullying by reporting it to teachers, Sherri said. The end result was punishment for both sides. She got two days of in-school suspension and was suspended from school for one day. The boy was given two days of suspension. 

Sherri referred to a program that she believes isn’t being well promoted by the district. Sources of Strength, a peer-to-peer mentoring program, offers viable emotional support for troubled students, she said. Due to last year’s pandemic and kids staying home, this program isn’t well known in the district community, she said. 

Sources of Strength is a high school group with the message “We Belong!” It initiated a March 2021 campaign in the district newsletter. Sources of Strength is a suicide prevention program with approximately 70 BHS student members, called peer leaders, and six adult advisors, the newsletter stated.

Holly plans to keep her daughter out of school and online for the remainder of this year. She plans to wait and see “how this year plays out.”

“She is extremely bright and is doing higher-level classes at 15 … so she can get out of school as soon as possible because it is so stressful,” the proud mom said. “There are some good teachers there, some good people there, but all it takes is one rotten apple to spoil the bunch.”

Top photo: Batavia PD's resource officer worked at the school during the closure on Dec. 3 and another officer happened to be at the school at the time the photo was taken. Photo by Howard Owens.

Batavia City Schools’ officials respond to criticism of inadequate efforts to quell bullying

By Joanne Beck

Editor’s Note: This is the response from Batavia City School District’s Administration regarding parent and student comments about bullying at district schools. The district closed city schools last Friday, Dec. 3, following the perception of threats of violence and after the distribution of pamphlets and a proposed walk-out in protest of what students believed was a lack of response to bullying.The district closed after reports of threats of violence at buildings in the district began circulating on social media. Per a press release issued on Dec. 2, District officials "worked in close collaboration with the Batavia Police Department and made the decision to close the schools out of an abundance of caution."

To read what the parents had to say about bullying at Batavia HS, click here.

Contrary to the belief of some families that Batavia City School staff doesn’t care about or respond to bullying adequately enough, there are teachers, counselors, administrators, and even student peers in place to support students in need, Interim Superintendent Scott Bischoping says. 

“I think it’s important for parents to know we want to work together. We appreciate parent input,” he said during an interview with The Batavian Wednesday. “The folks here are committed to working with the kids and parents to make this district the best we can.”

Bischoping and Batavia High School Principal Paul Kesler agreed that incidents being cited by students do not always have a simple fix.  In fact, they are often “far more complex than that,” Bischoping said. 

He doesn’t deny that there are “true instances” of bullying that are clear-cut violations of the district’s Code of Conduct, however, “these are the ones that are easiest to work with,” he said. 

It is all of the other situations — involving “multiple kids and multiple issues” — that take time to navigate, investigate, decipher and determine who the key players are and what was said and/or done, he said. 

“There’s no immediacy involved with that,” Bischoping said. “There’s no one of these that looks alike; each one we go into with a different approach.”

Some students had reported to their parents instances of name-calling using homophobic and/or racist slurs, and that the incidents weren’t being taken seriously by district staff.

Kesler offered a rebuttal: These matters are treated with confidentiality, he said, and therefore information is often kept private while staff investigates the situation. 

“We do look into discrimination on any level; it isn’t anything that we tolerate,” Kesler said. “My recommendation is that if a parent calls somebody and they don’t feel the situation has been dealt with, call again. Once we’re made aware of the situation, we know our responsibility is to take care of it. Our goal is for the situation not to happen again.”

Some parents complained that their children were offered opportunities to leave the classroom and remove themselves from their accused bullies. The parents didn’t feel it was fair to remove their child from the classroom or to offer safe space at a counselor’s office, where the alleged bullies were as well. That’s where things can get dicey since counselors are also trying to talk with the accused bullies to try and rectify the situation, he said. 

Board of Education President Alice Benedict feels confident that district leaders are responding to family concerns appropriately.

"I talked to Interim Superintendent Bischoping several times, and he reassures me that available counselors and teachers are contending with lots of questions of students and their complaints of bullying," Benedict said. "I think they are doing all they can. It can be overwhelming for teachers and counselors. It seems the tragic death of one of the students seems to have pushed the students' comments of being bullied."

There has been no confirmation of that student's death being related to bullying, however, many families have linked it to other bullying incidents. District officials had no official comment about the death, but have offered condolences to the family at prior board meetings.

What is bullying?
According to the district’s Code of Conduct, the Dignity for All Students Act (pages 15 and 16) “makes sure students are learning how to get along, work together, and respect differences in schools that are safe and welcoming to all.” 

“The District strictly prohibits discrimination, harassment and/or bullying against any student, by employees or students, that creates a hostile school environment by conduct, or by threats, intimidation or abuse, including cyberbullying, that: a) has or would have the effect of unreasonably and substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance, opportunities or benefits, or mental, emotional and/or physical well-being; or b) reasonably causes or would reasonably be expected to cause a student to fear for his or her physical safety; or c) reasonably causes or would reasonably be expected to cause physical injury or emotional harm to a student; or d) occurs off school property and creates or would foreseeably create a risk of substantial disruption within the school environment, where it is foreseeable that the conduct, threats, intimidation or abuse might reach school property,” the Code states.

“Such conduct shall include, but is not limited to: acts based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender (including gender identity or expression) or sex,” it states.

There are students that claim to have been so disturbed and disrupted by the name-calling that they left school and enrolled in a BOCES remote learning program that is completely online. Kesler estimated there to be 25 students enrolled in the program at this time for various reasons that also include parental concerns about the transmission of COVID-19. He would like students to remain in school, but the online program is another option, he said. 

Where to turn for help
The district provides four counselors at the high school and another counselor who is shared between the middle and high schools, and additional counseling or social work support is being actively sought, Bischoping said. Part of the American Rescue Plan Act funds of $5 million will go toward supports of instructional and mental health counseling, and other Covid-19 related needs, such as air purifiers, he said. 

Other resources include:

  • Sources of Strength is a peer-to-peer mentoring program led by a faculty advisor. (See Parents seek help for their bullied children.) “We’re encouraging students not to share publicly another student’s story, but if they’re aware (another student is troubled) … we have an emotional/social learning team,” Kesler said. SOS members may refer a student to that team, which can support the student with “reflective and restorative” measures to help them learn positive behaviors and recognize what to be aware of to deal with mental health challenges. 

    The We Belong campaign was to bring awareness to breaking stereotypes and being tolerant of all people, the newsletter stated. It focuses on inclusion and acceptance, without regard to race, religion, gender, culture, or other differences.

    “Instead, members work to encourage their peers to be proud of who they are and to find strength in the positive characteristics they hold,” it stated. “In line with the District's mottos of belonging together and remaining strong, the Sources of Strength group kicked off the campaign with a mural in the BHS entrance stating, ‘We, the Blue Devils, Belong Together.’”

    Throughout March, Sources of Strength members planned to reach out to the student body in a variety of ways, including shared, student-led videos and a lunchtime program aimed to reach as many individual students as possible. A wall art display represents how the entire student body creates one picture all together, regardless of differences, the newsletter stated.

  • The parent connection. School officials encourage parents to speak up about concerns. Call the district at 585-343-2480, Ext. 2000 for the high school. “If a parent knows the child is in trouble, we want them to get one-on-one counseling,” Kesler said. 
  • A counselor has been visiting students in social studies class Mondays and Tuesdays throughout the school year, to check-in and talk about how they’re doing. This is an opportunity for students to connect to a counselor and further discuss any issues they have out of the classroom.  “They’re telling students it’s ok to talk to a counselor (teacher, staff, principal) about something,” Kesler said, adding that he has received many emails and phone calls, plus had conversations with at least 100 people that were “positive and supportive” about the recent upheaval of discontent from groups of parents and students. Other students wanted their voices to be heard, he said, which prompted the district to figure out how to support those students that “may be feeling a little isolated.”
  • BOCES has a trained trauma-informed grief counselor that is shared by all BOCES districts and available for mental health crises, such as the death of a district teacher.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the United States. If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, call the free and confidential Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For more information, go to 

COVID Complications …
The pandemic — which closed school, placed students at home on a computer, and created massive social distancing — did its share of damage amongst students, Kesler said. CBS News reported that the United States Surgeon General issued an advisory this week about a mental health crisis that is worsening amongst youth.

The number of youth experiencing depressive and anxiety symptoms, the advisory stated, doubled during the pandemic to 25% and 20% respectively, and in early 2021, emergency room visits for suicide attempts in the U.S. were 51% higher for adolescent girls and  4% higher for adolescent boys compared to the same time in 2019. 

Kesler agreed that school districts are experiencing a similar pattern, according to counselor reports.

“Students are realizing that their mental health needs more priority, we’ve certainly seen that,” he said.

Bullying is not a joke, nationally recognized youth motivational speaker tells sixth-graders at youth conference

By Howard B. Owens


Everybody needs a mentor, a trusted adult, to talk with about life's difficulties, Tom Thalen, an anti-bullying expert from Michigan told a group of sixth-graders at a youth conference at Genesee Community College on Tuesday.

True, most bullying takes place in middle school, but even 15 percent of 12th-graders report being bullied on a regular basis (meaning, at least three times a month).

And nearly 15 percent of adults report being bullied at their jobs.

"Your whole life, you're going to have to deal with people who are dealing with their own hurt, who are messed up, and are going to bully you," Thelen said. 

That means, we all need to learn how to control our response, remain calm, don't react in anger or hurt, don't lash out, and find a trusted adult to talk to about it. For schoolchildren, that often means reporting it to a teacher or administrator so an adult can deal with the issue.

Thelen said he was bullied as a child and was angry and sullen until he met Mrs. Burdick, a teacher who helped him learn to not let others control his thinking and his actions.

By the time he was in high school, he recognized bullying for what it is  -- it's not teasing, it's not a joke, it's something meant to humiliate another person that attacks their identity -- and he learned to control his response.

He also learned to help protect other students from bullying.

He recalled an incident in high school when he was standing in line at lunch in the cafeteria and two boys started making comments to a girl who was new to the school about the food she was putting on her plate.

"Take an extra dessert," they said.

They made similar comments about the types and amount of food on her plate. You know what they were getting at.

Thelen did nothing that day but he said it bothered him.

Then it happened the next day. And still, he did nothing.

That night, he looked at himself in the mirror, angry at himself, and became determined not to let it happen again.

When it happened again, he gently but firmly said, "Hey, guys, cut it out."

Years later, he got a note on Facebook from that girl praising him for being an inspiration and good example to his classmates. He was confused at first. He didn't immediately think of that incident. Then when he realized who she was -- the new girl, the girl who didn't know the old Tom, the Tom who was angry and sullen, only the Tom who was going through the process of being a better human being -- only then did he understand who it was she remembered.

She remembered the guy who stood up for her. And, he understood, it made a difference.

"I can’t change the rest of the world," Thelen told the sixth-graders. "I can't change what people do. But I can change what I do. You deserve to live an emotionally intelligent life."

Tom Thelen on the web.

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Byron-Bergen elementary students unite behind bully-free message

By Howard B. Owens


Press release (submitted photos):

For the third year, the Byron-Bergen Elementary School community of students and teachers united to celebrate their culture of diversity and anti-bullying.

The afternoon of October 27 began with a school tradition: the photograph of more than 500 students, taken from the vantage point of the school's rooftop. Their matching anti-bullying T-shirts featured the District's strategic goal for the year, "Creating leaders one student at a time."

After the photo was taken, the school gathered for its annual Anti-Bullying Assembly. Principal Brian Meister started things off with an acknowledgement of the District's recent designation by as a New York District of Character, thanking the students for making their school a shining example.

Much of the afternoon's entertainment was based on Carol McCloud's award-winning book "Have You Filled a Bucket Today?" "Bucket fillers" say and do nice things and help fill people's emotional buckets with positive feelings, while "bucket dippers" treat others hurtfully and leave them feeling sad and empty. Teachers and students presented a gameshow-type skit, complete with prizes, where student contestants had to guess whether teachers were demonstrating bucket-filling or bucket-dipping behavior. 

The school recognized participants in the 2015 Empire State Games with a special video commemoration of the event and an awards presentation. The proud winners included students: Camryn Brookhart, Robbie Gaylord, John Klafehn, Draven Liles, Chelsea Vanelli, and Emily Yun.

The school's Students of the Month and the Sixth-Grade Safety Patrol also received special honors.

The assembly included music, provided by the sixth-grade choir, a great dance number illustrating beauty in diversity, and a promise from the newest Pre-K members of the Byron-Bergen school community, to support others and report bullying behavior. Older students led the assembly in reciting the Seven Habits from the school's Leader in Me Program, which along with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program forms the foundation for Byron-Bergenís character-building success. 

For more information on the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program visit  HYPERLINK "" For information on The Leader in Me visit  HYPERLINK ""  



Champion fighter and wounded Iraq War vet present BHS students with anti-bullying message

By Howard B. Owens


Tom Murphy, a professional MMA fighter and an Ultimate Fighting Champion, brought his anti-bullying presention, Sweethearts and Heroes, to Batavia High School on Wednesday afternoon. Murphy's program is aimed at giving students tools for combating bullying, not just a pep talk about why bullying is wrong.

“Just talking about awareness doesn’t fix anything,” said Murphy, who lives in Glen Falls and was a wrestler in college at Brockport. “What separates us from other anti-bullying presentations and projects is that we have the plan to curb, and even stop, bullying in your school, or wherever it exists for you.”

His special guest Wednesday was Rick Yarosh and his companion dog Amos. Yarosh is an Iraq War vet whose Bradley armored vehicle was incinerated by an IED, leaving Yarosh badly burned. He also lost a leg. Yarosh spoke about battling against hopelessness to live a life of purpose and optimism.  


Pavilion institutes unique program that gives children confidence in the face of bullies

By Howard B. Owens

Bullies like the passive response. It means they're getting to you. They like the angry or frustrated response. It means they're in control and you're not.

What children need to learn is the confident response. The response that communicates, you're not getting to me, but if you don't stop, I'll take control.

For bullies, that response is no fun.

And teaching children how to respond to bullies with confidence is the goal of a new anti-bullying program instituted by the Pavilion Central School District.

The Bully Boot Camp -- seven lessons that parents complete with their children -- was developed by Timothy Shoemaker primarily as an online course parents purchase from his Web site,

One of the social workers at Pavilion, Chuck Kron, saw Shoemaker speak at Genesee Community College for a youth camp last spring and decided to check out his Web site.

"I thought he was a very effective speaker for the kids," Kron said. "You could year a pin drop. So I went to his Web site and checked out his tools and resources and I found them concrete, totally unique, boots on the ground, roll up your sleeves kind of stuff."

After some discussion, Shoemaker developed a plan to make the boot camp available to entire school districts. Kron liked the idea because it would allow school districts -- particularly Pavilion -- to provide the program to parents and students at no cost to the parents.

Pavilion did a trial run with the program last spring and is implementing it this year, making Pavilion the first district to offer the boot camp on a districtwide basis.

The program has already proven its effectiveness, Kron said. There was a student and parent who went through the boot camp in 10 days last spring. A few days after completing the program, the child showed up in Kron's office.

Kron admits that his first thought was along the lines of "oh, no, here we go again," but actually the student was quite proud of himself.

"He used a certain specific exercise to confront a bully in the lunch room and he felt good about it, and a lot more confident," Kron said. "He's been significantly less picked on, but when it happens he feels equipped and confident. He's no longer going home crying. He no longer wants to not come to school any more. Instead, he feels like he's got a little tool box to reach into."

Last night's introduction to the boot camp was attended by maybe a dozen or so Pavilion parents along with six or seven administrators from school districts in the area. Kron and the other administrators in Pavilion walked the group through what most of the seven-day course covers (ideally, a parent goes through the course in seven consecutive days with a child, with each session taking about 30 minutes).

Robin, a parent who attended said she's exicted to get started with her child, who had been a bit picked on last year and it's starting again this year.

"I learned (tonight) that I can give my son really great skills he can use as he is growing up
and can use in the future," Robin said. "It will help him in school and throughout his life. It's really important for my child because he's extremely passive. I'm hoping I can change that and get him to be more confident in himself."

One of the lessons, in fact, covers teaching a child how to act confident even if you don't feel confident. Body language, facial expressions and tone of voice can all be used to convey confidence even when you're trembling inside.

 "What this does is build up the victims' capacity to take the target off their heads," Kron said.

Implementation of the program doesn't mean the school district is letting bullies off the hook. The traditional methods of dealing with bullies -- punishments and consequences -- still exist and the district councelors will still try to bring about mediation and restorative justice, but the program is unique in providing students ways to neutralize bullies and helps give the parents the means to help their children.

"Often parents, when kids come home and say somebody is bothering them or somebody is bullying or harassing them, parents feel very powerless," Kron said. "They say, 'I wish I could just go into that school and tell that bully off myself.' Well, this gives parents something to do and channel that energy in a positive way that benefits their kids."

Top photo: Mike Brown collects examples of bullying from parents at Tuesday evening's introductory session. Bottom photo: Katie Newby tosses a wad of paper at Chuck Kron in a demonstration of the kind of practice a parent and child might do together on how to effectively respond to a bully.

Jackson principal speaks to community on bullying and district-wide prevention program

By Daniel Crofts

Shawn Clark, current principal of Jackson School in Batavia and soon-to-be principal of Batavia High School, got bullied Thursday night. Teachers and students ganged up on him, as parents looked on, in a church no less.

The sham was a demonstration called a "bullying circle," used to help educate people about how bullying tends to work in a school environment.

Clark spoke to the community at Batavia's First Presbyterian Church about a new district-wide anti-bullying initiative.

According to Clark, the district is using the popular Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which has more than 30 years of research behind it.

The vast majority of students who make up that "middle ground" -- that is, those who are neither bullies nor bullied -- is a key focus of the program.

"Most kids want to (help the victims)," Clark said, "but they don't know how."

It is very important, Clark said, for teachers and students to know how and when to respond to incidents of bullying.

"Research shows that when no action is taken, empathy goes down over time."

People then think that either bullying is no big deal or it's the victim's fault, and the problem gets worse.

This program, he said, educates kids and adults on what they can do to help stop bullying in its tracks.

At Jackson, a group of staff have formed a committee called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports to help build a positive, comfortable and friendly environment where every student can feel safe and welcome.

Once per week, the committee facilitates classroom discussions wherein kids can engage in face-to-face interactions with each other and discuss what's going on in their lives. They can talk about anything from problems at home to what they did on vacation.

"The point is to cultivate a family environment where the kids can feel safe talking about issues," Clark said.

Another function of these discussions, according to Clark, is to encourage an atmosphere of empathy. In talking about this, he made a distinction between sympathy, which is a feeling, and empathy, which is a "learned skill."

"Sometimes if the kids who are bullying know what's going on in the victims' lives, then they'll see them as human beings who deserve respect."

When asked if he has seen a difference as a result of these types of intervention, Clark replied: "Absolutely."

"The kids feel much more comfortable coming to adults and talking to them about their issues (including those that can be symptoms of, or precursors to, bullying)," he said. "And when we get the kids to work things out, the problems tend to be so much more minor than if we had let them go. (This way) we can take care of them before they escalate into something more serious."

The district's bullying prevention initiative has had its critics, though. Clark said that some people have suggested to him that what staff members really should be doing is "toughening kids up" so that they can fend for themselves.

According to Clark, it's not that easy.

"Research shows that kids who are bullied are so traumatized by it that they can't help themselves," he said.

Bullying can cause problems in kids' lives that make it very hard for them to stick up for themselves. The trauma resulting from bullying can lead to psychological disorders like anxiety and depression, and can even cause physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea and trouble sleeping.

Problems like these can, in turn, lead to frequent absence from school, which negatively impacts the student's overall academic performance.

Another challenge is the stigma attached to "snitching," or telling on a bully. But Clark maintains that there is a huge difference between "tattling," which means telling on others because you want to get them in trouble, and "informing," which is a way of keeping people safe.

"I never understood the (anti-snitching) mindset," Clark said. "It's okay to ignore the situation when someone is being bullied, but it's wrong to tell an adult about it?"

For Clark, this is all about rights.

"Do the kids at our school have the right to come to school and get an education without having to be afraid? I think the answer is yes."

But the concerns surrounding the reality of bullying don't just apply to the victims. Clark also talked about the risks bullies themselves face.

"(Bullying) can be a sign of a behavioral disorder that can escalate," he said. "Kids who bully are four times as likely to be convicted of crimes (by their 20s). They are also four times as likely to join gangs."

He speaks from experience, having formerly taught at an elementary school in inner-city Rochester. One of his former students has since joined a gang, and was recently killed.

As far as what people can do to reach out to kids who bully, Clark warned against the temptation to assume that they are outcasts who need a boost in self-confidence.

"The bullies might be the most popular kids in school," he said. "Many times, a lack of self-confidence is not the problem -- they have too much self-confidence."

These kids tend to have good leadership abilities, but they use those skills in a negative way.

Principal Clark appealed to citizens to do their part to help eradicate this scourge of mistreating others.

"If you have sons, daughters, nieces, nephews or friends in the Batavia schools," he said, "just talk to them about bullying. The more people talk about it, the better. The more information we can get out there, the better."

In addressing parents, Clark pointed out the role modern technology -- which he called the "new playground" -- has in the whole bullying phenomenon.

"It's so much harder for kids to escape bullying now than ever," he said.

Whereas bullying used to be more or less confined to the schools, now bullies can reach their victims through computers, cell phones, etc. Even at home, over the weekend, and on vacations, someone can make comments about a schoolmate on Facebook or send him/her a harassing text message.

"Parents should monitor what their kids are doing," Clark said. "The kids are not necessarily doing anything wrong, but someone else might be doing wrong to them."

Clark noted the very positive, caring environment at Jackson Schooland and its great group of students, teachers and staff.

There are more than 400 kids at Jackson, and Clark knows them all by name.

Clark's talk was part of a free spaghetti dinner hosted by Peaceful Genesee, a coalition of local community members and organizations dedicated to fostering nonviolence as a way of life in Genesee County.

Photos taken by Steve Ognibene

O-A school district to host meeting on bullying

By Billie Owens

Interested parties, mark your calender:

Oakfield-Alabama Central School District is hosting a “town hall style” meeting on bullying beginning at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26 in the middle/high school auditorium. The purpose of the meeting is to educate and engage parents and community about the serious issue of bullying.

The community is invited to learn more about bullying, what our district is doing about it, and what they can do to help. The format of the meeting will consist of a presentation on bullying, current legislation, school programming, various local agencies that can assist, and a Q & A period.

This is an informational meeting and not a forum to address specific incidences of bullying. Those should be addressed through the administration.

Refreshments and child care will be provided.

For more information contact Sara Wilkosz ( 948-5211, ext. 3304,
or Mark Alexander ( 948-5211, ext. 3203.

More on cyberbullying

By Howard B. Owens

Nothing The Batavian has ever published has elicited quite the response as an item we published this morning on cyberbullying.

Whether by comments here, by private email, by Facebook comments or by Twitter, there's been a lot of discussion of the piece.

The feedback has been both favorable and harshly negative, and the negative messages have been fueled by misunderstanding the post, the nature of The Batavian, journalism in general and too much of it, sadly, expressing acceptance of bullying.

One point the critics got right is that a key element of the post was missing -- one of the people portrayed as victimized by bullies has a history -- at least judging from the screen shots sent to us -- of bullying others.

The author admits (remember, as some people seem to have missed, I didn't write the piece), that he didn't see the person's status updates and comments that apparently prompted other people to lash out at her. She deleted them before he saw what he saw on Facebook.

We've both seen those status updates now, and they're pretty ugly.

But the fact those updates were not included in the original post, according to some, made "the story" one-sided.

But it wasn't a story. It was an opinion piece, an op-ed, as I referred to it in the post. As much as anything, it was a public service announcement against bullying. It keyed off screen grabs taken from recent posts by local kids and referred to a recent case, but it wasn't about those incidents. It was about dealing with cyberbullying.

That point was missed by some, appreciated by others.

The reactions I found most troubling:

  • She did it first, therefore my bullying her is OK.
  • Everybody gets bullied, so what's the big deal?
  • It's just a little Facebook argument and now the media is making it into a big drama.
  • The person getting bullied shares the blame because he or she could make it stop if he or she wanted.

My position: bullying is wrong, in all cases. There's no justification for it. It's not something you can excuse away or just expect a victim to deal with it. It's morally reprehensible on its face.

And it doesn't matter if the other person was a jerk first. Anybody that would bully under those circumstances would bully under many other circumstances.

One person quoted to me, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." My response: that's a lie. It's a lie told by parents at a time when their kids are hurting. It's not a life philosophy. The fact is, words leave marks. Words can hurt. Words matter.

But it seems there's a group of young people in Genesee County who don't understand that, or don't want to understand it.

And that's the real issue, not who bullied who first, and that point seems to have been lost.

People say the "story" was one-sided, but it was in fact "no-sided." No names were used.

The names weren't used because who the actual participants were, and the actual sequence of events, were immaterial to the real issue that needed to be discussed. If you weren't directly involved -- and most of our readers were not, I'm sure -- you wouldn't know who any of the participants were.

The issue was bullying, not who did what to whom. The examples used were exactly that: real life examples, current examples.

The more readily people grasp the fact that bullying is a serious issue, the easier it will be to deal with it.  The best thing that came out of the posting today is it got a lot of people talking about a very important issue, even if some of them didn't see the real issue in their fog of confusion while defending their own actions.

Report: Cyberbullying at local high schools

By Howard B. Owens

A reader I know and trust to be truthful on sharing something like this, put together the image above and sent it to me. He said it's a collection of Facebook status updates from people being bullied and their tormentors. All of the teenagers involved, he said, are students at Batavia High School. He said knowledge of an increase of cyberbullying against some students at BHS is common knowledge among the students.

One point I want to add: Cyberbullying is a crime.

It can be charged as harassment in the second degree, which is a Class B misdemeanor. Cyberbullies should be reported either by victims or their parents to police. Witnesses can also report crimes, but in most cases it will take a victim who cooperates with the investigation to proceed with criminal charges.

UPDATE 12:34 p.m.:  I received an e-mail from somebody familiar with the situation and said students from mulitple Genesee County high schools are involved and one of the targets is not a student of BHS.  Any confusion on the school involvement is the result of my own misunderstanding of the original e-mail I received.

He sent along the following op-ed with the image.

In the age of social media and increasing technology, every day people see things on the news about cyberbullying and harrassment and many don't realize the seriousness of what is being done. Sometimes they don't think it's happening to anyone they know. Sometimes they don't think its happening to anyone near them. Sometimes people don't realize how serious it can be until it's too late.

Recently, many students in Genesee County school districts have had their Facebook news feeds, filled with cyberbullying of a few students, and the issue is only getting bigger and more widespread. But only a few are standing up for the victims, while more and more join in to bully, and many of the victims, are sitting back without knowing what to do.

"Like this stuff was bad. Worries me... :/" stated one student's Facebook comment. It "turns your stomache. Doesnt matter what someones done noone deserves that to be said," said another when responding about the nature of the cyberbullying posts.

In the most recent and student popularized bullying case (photo collage), there is one student being bullied, and upwards of 30+ cyberbullies making comments directly or indirectly toward her, while hundreds of students have 'Liked' status updates supporting the bullying acts.

According to the nonprofit website

'Cyberbullying' is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones. It has to have a minor on both sides, or at least have been instigated by a minor against another minor. Once adults become involved, it is plain and simple cyberharassment or cyberstalking.

Cyberbullying can be done for many reasons. Many times, it's done by someone with insecurities, hoping to boost their social standing. Other times, the power-hungry do it looking to boost their ego. There is also the bullying done as revenge, out of anger, and sometimes students are cyberbullying without even intentionally trying to.

While many students, usually believe their words are harmless, what they say can many times lead to a higher level of misdemeanor cyberharassment charges.

There are two kinds of cyberbullying, direct attacks (messages sent to your kids directly) and cyberbullying by proxy (using others to help cyberbully the victim, either with or without the accomplice's knowledge).

Not only does cyberbullying, include harassment that could bring upon legal issues, but many times, it also turns into defamation. Defamation, which is also known as slander, is the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual a negative image. Many times students often take it to the extent of defamation by making up rumors or doing whatever else it takes to make the bullied look as bad as possible.

Parents need to be the one trusted person kids can go when things go wrong online and offline. Yet they often are the ones kids avoid when things go wrong online. Why? Parents tend to overreact. Most children will avoid telling their parents about a cyberbullying incident fearing they will only make things worse.

Parents also need to understand that a child is just as likely to be a cyberbully as a victim of cyberbullying and often go back and forth between the two roles during one incident. They may not even realize that they are seen as a cyberbully.

The message is simple. Don't write it. Don't send it. For more info on cyberbullying and how to prevent it, visit

A 2010 Attica graduate, Jesse Kern, that is currently serving in the Army, publicly defended one of the most recent victims on his Facebook page and posted this video and commented: "People just don't get it."

Parents of Williamsville teen who took his own life share anti-bullying message at GCC

By Howard B. Owens

Jim and Tracy Rodemeyer remember their son's smile.

"He was developing such a sarcastic nature," said Tracy when asked about a memory of their 14-year-old son who took his own life after prolonged bullying from classmates. "He was becoming so funny. His smile. If we could just see his smile one more time."

The Rodemeyers were at Genesee Community College on Tuesday night to take part in a panel discussion about bullying.

The forum was sponsored by the Gay/Straight Alliance and The Christian Students Alliance.

"Bullying hurts everyone," said Candice Faulring, the faculty member who helped organize the event (pictured below). "The GSA and the CSU may disagree on a lot, but we realize that some issues are much bigger than our individual points of view and require that we take action and find solutions together."

Prior to the event, students were asked to write on pieces of paper hateful things that have been said to them and the answers ranged from "You're a stupid dyke." to "Only idiots believe in God."

It's the same sort of torture Jamey Rodemeyer faced in the months and years leading up to his suicide and it's the kind of cruelty that's got to stop, even if it takes tougher laws to punish bullies, the Rodemeyers said.

They're planning on approaching their Albany representatives to discuss tougher anti-bullying and harassment laws. But meanwhile, they said, everybody has a role in helping to stop bullying, from parents who need to help their children with self-esteem to the police who investigate the crimes.

"You've got to be a pain (if you're a parent)," said Jim Rodemeyer. "Complain. Don't let it go. Don't pass it off. You've got to complain and make a fuss. If you don't, you might wind up in our situation."

"There's got to be a stop to this," Tracy added. "These kids need to realize that they have a right to be on this planet as much as the person next to them, even if they're different, because everybody is different in their own way."

Bullying prevention information session at Elba school

By Gretel Kauffman

All Elba residents are invited to a bullying prevention information session at Elba Central School on Thursday, Nov.17. Topics will include a review of current code of conduct, school response to bullying, prevention strategies, and parent resources. The presentation will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

The information session will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Library Media Center. For more information, call Kelly Carlie at 757-9967, ext. 1602, or Donna Lougheed at 757-9967, ext. 1603.

Photos: Anti-bullying seminar at Jackson School

By Howard B. Owens

Teachers, teachers' aides, administration, staff and community members gathered in each of the city shool districts schools this afternoon for further education on anti-bullying initiatives.

From 12:30 to 3 p.m., with students on a half-day schedule, each school hosted a seminar on how to recognize and deal with bullying in schools, from pre-K up through 12th grade.

Shawn Clark led the discussion at Jackson Elementary School and said the turnout was strong and participation high.

"It links community members, businesses and the schools," Clark said. "What we're looking at is a communitywide impact here."

He said the programs were a year in planning and the district intends to conduct annual seminars to stop bullying.

Students told 'take bullies by the horn' at youth conference

By Howard B. Owens

More than 400 middle-school students were at Genesee Community College this morning for the 2011 Genesee County Youth Conference.

Students heard a keynote speech by bullying expert Michael Nerney (pictured below during a workshop later in the morning with teachers) called "Taking the Bully by the Horns."

Then they broke into a series of workshops lasting less than an hour each in three consecutive sessions. The workshops included "Hmmm ... is this the right decision?", "Energy Smart Choices," "Who Wants to Make a Good First Impression?", "Building Your Potential," "Nutritional Jeopardy" and yoga.

Above, Joni Yaskulski leads a class through a yoga session.

Nerney's talk focused on adolescent brain development and the negative effects of bullying on development. The message was geared to the concept of changing social norms among middle-school students so that everyone, especially bystanders, understand that bullying is not acceptable nor is it harmless.

Students from Holy Family, Oakfield-Alabama, Batavia, Elba, Alexander, St. Joe's, Byron-Bergen, Le Roy and Pavilion participated in the program.

The conference was organized and sponsored by Genesee Youth In Action, 4-H, NYS Office of Children and Family Services, Students Against Destructive Decisions, Genesee County Stop-DWI.

GCC students speak out against bullying

By Howard B. Owens

About 50 GCC students were in the Forum Thursday afternoon to have their voices heard as they spoke out against bullying.

Bullying has become a national issue in recent weeks after five teens in separate cases took their own lives after suffering insults and embarrassment at the hands of people who ridiculed them.

"It's so hard to constantly hear about 13-14 year olds ending their lives, partly for not having an outlet, but more for not feeling safe," said Candice S. Faulring, an instructor of psychology and adviser to GCC's Gay-Straight Alliance, who organized the rally.

Several students took turns at the mic, either because they had been a victim of bullying -- whether over weight issues, shyness or being gay. Some students spoke about friends who had been bullying, and Maggie Rapp, 19, above with Faulring, told the story of a lesbian friend who took her own life.

"A lot of the pictures we have up are pictures of kids from around the country, but to hear the stories of bullying that's happening right in our own community, in Genesee County, in Batavia, in Oakfield, in Alabama, and from kids who are still relatively young and have the courage to get up and tell their stories, that means a lot to me," Faulring said.

Students said they want people to understand that being mean to people just because they're different isn't acceptable behavior.

"I just feel it's wrong because all people are different," said Megan Matthews, 19, from Alexander. "We should just all get along. There's nothing wrong with being different."

Sarah Tuttle, 23, of Albion, and a representative of the Gay-Straight Alliance, said she's most concerned about bullying of gays and that bullying of lesbians hasn't gotten much media attention in recent weeks, but it should.

"There is no norm," Tuttle said. "Everything is normal. If you're gay, if you're male, if you're female, African-American, Asian, white, whatever, you're all the same."

According to Faulring, bullying has gotten worse in recent years because it is no longer limited to just the schoolyard boundaries.

"When I was a kid, I knew when I got home I didn't have to worry about getting a text message or what people might say on Facebook," Faulring said.

Faulring said she plans to continue to push the anti-bullying message, including making a documentary of the stories of Genesee County residents who have been victims of bullies and how they overcame it.

BHS student organizes own "wear purple" day to promote anti-bullying message

By Howard B. Owens

People -- including gay teens -- shouldn't be bullied.

That's the message Batavia High student Kelly Jones wanted to get out today.

After reading about Oct. 20 being a "wear purple" day in remembrance of five gay teens who reportedly committed suicide recently after being bullied, Kelly wanted to get as many students at BHS as possible to wear purple today.

Many did.

"I feel bad for people," Kelly said. "I see it every day. I've bullied and I feel horrible about it. I just think it's a horrible thing and I just don't want people to be bullied anymore."

Kelly found out about the day through a Facebook group, so she sent messages to all of her friends yesterday -- three times -- and asked them to make sure all of their friends at BHS knew about the plan.

Principle Chris Daily said Kelly's initiative and so many students participating is typical of BHS.

"We have an extremely caring and giving bunch of kids at Batavia," Daily said.

"We're lucky here," he added. "We have such a diverse population in this high school -- the haves and the have nots, all sorts, that people are used to people being a little different."

Though students said the school isn't without its bullies, and they want it to stop.

"It's not right for here," said Kelly, who is on the far left in the picture above. "This is a small town and everybody knows everybody."

Cassie Warren said she wore purple today not because she's seen a lot of bullying this year, but she has in the past.

"(I wore purple) because people who are like gay and lesbian, they don't have maybe the right to speak out because everyone teases them," Cassie said. "It's not right, so I wanted to show them that people care."

Rebecca Truesell said it was moving to see so many of her classmates in purple today.

"I kind of related to (the gays who were bullied) because I've been picked on my whole life," Rebecca said. "It means a lot to me (that her classmates are wearing purple). When I saw all of the people, I almost started crying. All of these people care and it didn't seem like they cared, but they really do."

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