Tompkins Marks County’s First “Bullying Prevention Day”

Some 200 people joined a rally at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center on October 7 in a passionate show of support for the first-ever Bullying Prevention Day in Tompkins County.

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Taking a collective pledge not to bully

The rally featured a proclamation by the Tompkins County Legislature, speeches by Ithaca Police Chief Dennis Nayor, community leaders, and students, and performances by youth groups. A highlight of the rally came when attendees, wearing blue “Wash Away Bullying” t-shirts, took a collective pledge not to bully others.

“Every member of the Tompkins County community, government agencies, community organizations, school administrators, teachers, athletic coaches, parents, and students can play a part in creating a bully-free environment in our schools, athletics fields, public spaces, and online,” said Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne in reading the proclamation.

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Speakers at the GIAC rally

Nayor noted that bullying can cause long-lasting struggles in people’s lives. “Some of the issues we see later on in people’s lives like criminal activity could be rooted in a person’s experiences being bullied,” Nayor said, as reported by the Cornell Daily Sun. “We at the police department are committed to trying to find solutions, and we’re open to being a resource to that.” Nayor encouraged victims of bullying to contact police if they need help.

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Ithaca Police Chief Dennis Nayor

Representatives from the Ithaca Youth Bureau, the Be the One campaign, and other organizations also attended the rally.

The rally included a performance by the GIAC Jumpers, a student dance, step, and double-dutch troupe. A group of second-to-fifth graders known as the Navigators performed a rap about kindness and a catchy rap-dance with a “don’t be a bully” message. Students also decorated the GIAC gym with handmade anti-bullying posters.

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GIAC Jumpers

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“Wash Away Bullying”

The t-shirts, with the color blue in solidarity with World Day of Bullying Prevention, were produced by GIAC’s Bitty Box Teen Entrepreneurship Program and sponsored by The Sophie Fund.

The rally was sponsored by GIAC and the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force, formed earlier this year by more than two dozen government agencies, community organizations, and representatives from school districts to explore youth bullying prevention strategies.

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Anti-Bullying Pledge

Several Tompkins County schools also marked Bullying Prevention Day on their campuses. Students and staff in the Lansing Central School District wore blue for the occasion. Students in the Lansing Middle School wrote words of encouragement in the hallway on the heels of September’s Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month.

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Lansing Central School District

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT BULLYING PREVENTION IN TOMPKINS COUNTY

Ready? It’s Time for Ithaca’s 4th Annual Cupcake Contest!

Tasty cakes. Delicious frostings. Creative toppings. We can’t wait to see what cupcake delights our amateur bakers have in store for us again this year. The 4th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest will take place in the Commons on Saturday October 19.

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Contestants of all ages are invited and will be eligible for dozens of prizes including a Grand Prize valued at $250. (Open to amateur bakers only.)

Attention Teens and Pre-Teens: A $100 gift certificate redeemable at dozens of downtown Ithaca shops will be presented with this year’s Special Youth Award!

The contest is organized by The Sophie Fund, which was established in 2016 in memory of Cornell University art student Sophie Hack MacLeod to support mental health initiatives aiding young people.

The 4th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest is sponsored by GreenStar Natural Foods Market, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, and Cayuga Medical Center.

To enter the cupcake contest, contestants are asked to bring their submissions to the Bernie Milton Pavilion in the Ithaca Commons from 10–11:30 a.m. on Saturday October 19. The winners will be announced and prizes awarded at a ceremony at the Pavilion later the same day at 3 p.m. There will be musical acts throughout the day!

Sophie’s passion for baking cupcakes inspired the launch of the contest in 2016. At the time of her death by suicide at age 23, while on a medical leave of absence from Cornell, Sophie was active in Ithaca’s vibrant culinary scene. According to her family, she hoped to open her own bakery after completing her Cornell degree.

In conjunction with the contest, The Sophie Fund is again organizing a “Cupcake Button” fundraising campaign, with monies donated this year to the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, which fights sexual assault and domestic violence.

Click here for all the information on contest procedures and rules, and to download a registration form.

Donate to The Sophie Fund: Our 2019 Appeal

Please consider making a donation today to support The Sophie Fund’s work on mental health initiatives aiding young people in the Ithaca and Tompkins County communities. Sophie would have turned 27 this week, and we are marking the anniversary to launch our 2019 fundraising campaign.

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Special goals for the coming year include expanding participation in the Zero Suicide Model for healthcare in Tompkins County; promoting bullying prevention initiatives for K-12; advocating for college student mental health; and expanding our website and social media content.

We are proud to report on many collaborations and initiatives throughout the past year to benefit mental health in the Ithaca and Tompkins County communities and on the Cornell University and Ithaca College campuses. Highlights:

Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force: The Sophie Fund in collaboration with the Tompkins County Youth Services Department spearheaded an initiative for a collective community effort to combat youth bullying, which includes more than 30 government agencies, community organizations, and representatives from the county’s six school districts.

Suicide Prevention: The Sophie Fund sponsored training in Mental Health First Aid for managers, chefs, servers, bartenders, baristas, and others in Ithaca’s high-stress hospitality sector. We also provided a grant for training 25 Cornell students in the QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) suicide prevention program.

Cornell University Student Mental Health Review: The Cornell administration launched a review to take place during the 2019-2020 academic year. The Sophie Fund has been a prominent local advocate for a review since writing to President Martha E. Pollack in early 2017 expressing concerns about Cornell’s policies, programs, and practices.

The Reflect Organization: The Sophie Fund awarded a grant to The Reflect Organization, which facilitates innovative, proactive programs that provide college students with a safe forum to engage in open and honest discussion around mental health. The grant will help support the new Reflect chapter at Cornell University. From Reflect President Jared Fenton: “We are proud to be a partner of The Sophie Fund and honored to be a grantee. Capacity-building support is just what we need. It will profoundly enhance our ability to best serve the most students possible.”

“Mental Health Weekend” at Cornell University: The Sophie Fund collaborated with the Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter service fraternity and other student organizations to raise $1,367.50 for the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County. Said APO President Winnie Ho: The Sophie Fund has become a recognizable name on our campus as an organization that has actively engaged with college students in every conversation about local and collegiate mental health.”

“Send Silence Packing”: The Sophie Fund provided the funding to Active Minds at Ithaca College for a stigma-fighting, awareness-raising suicide prevention exhibition featuring 1,100 backpacks to represent the average number of college students who die by suicide every year. A photo of the exhibition featured in a New York Times article on student mental health.

“The Loneliness Project”: The Sophie Fund provided a grant for a long form, multi-platform series about depression produced by WRFI Community Radio, Ithaca Voice, Cornell Daily Sun, and the Park Scholars Program at Ithaca College. The series won the 2019 small market radio category Award for Outstanding Public Affairs Program or Series from the New York State Broadcasters Association.

“Readings on Mental Health”: The Sophie Fund supported the 2018 author series featuring Laura June, Courtenay Hameister, and Kelly Jensen, presented by the Mental Health Association and hosted by Buffalo Street Books.

College Student Mental Health Leave of Absence: The Sophie Fund provided a grant to the Mental Health Association of Tompkins County to develop a project to support local college students considering or taking a leave of absence due to mental health struggles.

“Brief Guides” Series: The Sophie Fund published brief guides on student mental health advocacy, bullying prevention, and the Zero Suicide Model.

Ithaca College Interns: During the 2018-2019 academic year The Sophie Fund hosted four students from Ithaca College’s writing program—Margaret McKinnis, Amber Raiken, Chanelle Ferguson, and Nicole Kramer—to write articles about local mental health champions for our website.

Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest: The Sophie Fund organized its third annual contest last October to promote mental health awareness. The contest was sponsored by GreenStar Natural Foods Market, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, and La Tourelle Hotel, Bistro and Spa. Volunteers from Cornell University and Ithaca College student organizations supported the contest, as did local mental heath organizations.

New York Honors The Sophie Fund: Last September, the New York State Office of Mental Health presented The Sophie Fund with the 2018 Excellence in Suicide Prevention Award at the annual New York Suicide Prevention Conference in Albany.

To Make a Donation:

Click Here for The Sophie Fund Donation Page

For more information on The Sophie Fund’s work, please visit:

http://www.thesophiefund.org

Thank You!

Exploring Strategies to Stop Bullying

Surveying students about the prevalence of bullying. Training teachers, coaches, parents, and young people on how to respond. Encouraging youth to be upstanders. Holding annual Bullying Prevention Day activities to spread awareness. These were a few of the ideas discussed Saturday at a two-hour Community Forum sponsored by the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force.

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Celia Clement reviewing feedback on school bullying

The Task Force held the forum to introduce its work to the public and to solicit ideas from the community on strategies to address bullying. More than two dozen government agencies, community organizations, and representatives from the county’s six school districts formed the Task Force in March.

“A lot of these conversations and diving deep into these topics can become very personal and very painful, which we want to honor,” said Nigel Gannon, a Healthy Living Program Specialist for New York State 4-H Youth Development, who moderated the forum.

“We have to develop spaces where we can have those emotions in a positive way. Remember that we are all feeling the same [about bullying], in some way, as individuals, as loved ones, as community members. We are not happy to be here, I think we are hopeful to be here. We’re going to help the Task Force get the information they need to try to move this forward.”

Scott MacLeod of The Sophie Fund kicked off presentations by Task Force working groups by reviewing basic information about bullying in national, regional, and local contexts.

He noted the federal government’s definition of bullying, and how it should be distinguished from other behaviors such as conflict, rudeness, and meanness:

“Bullying is any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated.”

MacLeod explained how bullying has psychological, physical, and academic effects, and adversely affects youth who are bullied as well as those who engage in bullying. He said that youth who are perceived as different, especially LGBTQ children, are at greater risk. Persistent bullying, he added, can lead to or worsen feelings of isolation, rejection, exclusion, and despair, as well as depression and anxiety, which can contribute to suicidal behavior. MacLeod said that while there is no federal stature that expressly outlaws bullying, New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) came into force in 2012 to protect students from bullying, harassment, and discrimination.

Citing statistics, MacLeod’s report said 19 percent of American high school students are bullied, and 14.9 percent experience cyberbullying. He said that data for the 2017-2018 school year, most likely reflecting underreporting, showed that Tompkins County school districts had 109 incidents of discrimination, harassment, and bullying , and 20 incidents of cyberbullying.

Celia Clement, a retired school social worker and now an independent consultant, delivered a report on potential approaches for addressing bullying in schools. She identified five areas for attention:

  • Communication: Families are not always getting the information they need about bullying definition, prevention, intervention, education, district policies and the laws involved such as the Dignity for All Students Act.
  • Education: Families and school staff want help around recognizing signs that their youth are struggling with mental health challenges, social challenges, or bullying. Students need to be educated as well around what is bullying, recognizing the difference between peer conflict and bullying, knowing the warning signs when adults need to be informed, and ways to intervene effectively when they see bullying, harassment or cyber bullying, or suicide warning signs.
  • Prevention: The key to successful intervention models is to include students as the core drivers when building programs that promote positive school cultures. There are existing local programs that can serve as models: Friendship Assistance Brigade, Stars, Be the One, and Welcoming Allies and Mentors.
  • Intervention: There is a need to educate school teaching staff and administrators about best practice around intervention when situations of conflict, bullying, harassment and cyber bullying occur—such as restorative practices as a way to support the target and to help the aggressor make changes. There is a need to offer strategies and tools to work with families in a way that promotes outcomes where everyone feels good about the process of addressing conflict and bullying situations.
  • Assessment: Schools need to conduct surveys about bullying to inform decisions for addressing the problem.

MacLeod also delivered a working group report on potential approaches for addressing bullying outside school property. He cited numerous ideas including holding an annual community forum and student leadership summit, providing training and information workshops, and launching awareness projects such as an annual Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Day.

Beth Hogan, a member of the Task Force’s Family Advisory Group, delivered a working group report on the concerns of parents surveyed by the group. She said parents experienced a significant increase in stress over bullying, and felt that they themselves were effectively being bullied. The parents believed that bullying was causing heightened levels of anxiety and depression in children, she added.

Hogan said that schools were reactive rather than proactive, and that mental health services inside and outside schools were inadequate. Hogan’s report called for frequent communication about bullying, including about the Dignity Act, to staff, families, and students. She said youth and parent involvement in bullying prevention should be a priority, and that the work should begin in the elementary grades.

Sophie Callister, a former student in the Lansing Central School District and now a student at Ithaca College, is the coordinator of the Task Force’s Student Advisory Group. “The bullying task force is something that means a huge deal to me because from third grade all through my school career it was a huge problem,” she said. “I want kids to feel like there is somebody willing to listen and help them and that they feel safe every day. I never really felt safe in school.” She said that rather than school counselors or psychologists the only person she felt she could go to for support was a math teacher. Callister said a goal of the task force is “to get the community involved—parents, students, everybody. This is not a time to be quiet.”

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Community Forum on Bullying Prevention, Tompkins County Public Library

Forum participants provided feedback and engaged in discussion in breakout sessions. On school programs, participants argued that schools under report bullying incidents and do not create safe spaces for students. They noted that teachers and coaches themselves sometimes engage in bullying by humiliating students/athletes. Participants suggested strategies including peer mentors and giving students tools for confronting bullying.

For public action, participants proposed holding local public forums within the county’s six school districts to better encourage family participation in bullying prevention initiatives. Participants supported the idea of providing training and workshop opportunities to educate the community about bullying and prevention methods, and called for a centralized resource to provide information about the Dignity Act and how to file complaints about bullying incidents. The participants also endorsed exploring synergies with existing programs and activities, such as the “Be the One” campaign.

Participants who focused on family and student involvement emphasized the need for developing a common language to understand bullying, and the importance of student-led initiatives for success. They noted that it was essential to view those who bully as people also in need of support to address the underlying causes of their behavior.

Some participants called for greater attention to students who may be experiencing suicide ideation, noting that four young people from the Lansing community have died by suicide in just the past year. Participants highlighted opportunities for students to become involved by forming chapters of organizations such as Active Minds and Sources of Strength, and participating in activities such as Mental Health First Aid for Teens.

Click here to read Becky Mehorter’s Ithaca Voice article on the Community Forum, “Task force brings community together to address bullying in local schools.”

Click here to read Matt Steecker’s article in the Ithaca Journal on the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force, “Finding solutions to bullying: Task force to hold forum at library.”

Click here to visit The Sophie Fund’s website resource page on bullying prevention.

Brief Guide to Youth Bullying Prevention

Nearly one in five American high school students experiences bullying while at school. A higher percentage of girls are bullied than boys. One in three lesbian, gay, or bisexual students is bullied. Victims of bullying may suffer serious and long-lasting physical, psychological, and academic effects. Those who bully also need help: they are more likely to drop out of school, abuse alcohol and drugs, and engage in criminal activity.

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Representatives from more than two dozen local government agencies, community organizations, and local schools have formed the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force to explore the prevalence of youth bullying and strategies to combat it.

On the occasion of a Community Forum sponsored by the Task Force on June 15, The Sophie Fund presents the Brief Guide to Bullying Prevention. The guide highlights useful facts and figures, helpful resources on bullying prevention, and information about reporting acts of bullying, harassment, or discrimination under New York’s Dignity for All Students Act (DASA).

Prevalence of Youth Bullying

  • 19.0% of high school students were bullied at school in 2016-17.
  • 14.9% of high school students experienced electronic bullying.
  • More female students (22.3%) were bullied compared to male students (15.6%).
  • More female students (19.7%) were electronically bullied compared to male students (9.9%).
  • More lesbian, gay, or bisexual students (33.0%) were bullied at school than heterosexual students (17.1%) or students not sure of their sexual identity (24.3%).
  • 21.7% of New York high school students were bullied at school (higher than national average of 19.0%) in 2016-17.
  • More New York female students (24.6%) were bullied compared to male students (18.7%).
  • Nearly twice as many New York gay, lesbian, or bisexual students (34.6%) were bullied compared to heterosexual students (19.4%).
  • Tompkins County school districts reported 109 incidents of discrimination, harassment, and bullying (excluding cyberbullying), and 20 incidents of cyberbullying, in the 2017-2018 school year under the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA).
  • The 2018 Communities that Care Youth Survey of schools in Tompkins County and Seneca County found that more than a third of high school students reported feeling depressed on most days.

 

Basics of Youth Bullying

Definition: “Bullying is any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated.” Types include physical, verbal, and relational. Cyberbullying involves e-mail, instant messaging, blogs, chat rooms, gaming systems, tweeting, or social media.

Potential Psychological Effects: Depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, self- harming behavior (especially for girls), alcohol and drug use and dependence, aggression, involvement in violence or crime (especially for boys), emotional distress, hostility, and delinquency.

Potential Physical Effects: Immediate physical injury, sleep disorders, stomach aches, headaches, heart palpitations, dizziness, bedwetting, chronic pain, somatization (a syndrome of distressful, physical symptoms that cannot be explained by a medical cause), stress-related impact on the immune system and hormones, and impact on brain activity and functioning.

Potential Academic Effects: Impact on grades and standardized test scores starting as early as kindergarten and continuing through high school.

Bullying and Suicide: Persistent bullying can lead to or worsen feelings of isolation, rejection, exclusion, and despair, as well as depression and anxiety, which can contribute to suicidal behavior. Most young people who die by suicide have multiple risk factors.

Click here to read the Brief Guide to Youth Bullying Prevention, or click here to download a PDF.