October is Bullying Prevention Month across the country, and a new project is working to help children learn to stop bullying before it begins in Western New York
As many as 28 percent of U.S. students grade six to twelve say they’ve experienced bullying, and research shows persistent bullying can contribute to suicidal behavior.
“And that’s just flat out not acceptable,” said Bill Long, owner of Spar Self Defense in Tonawanda.
On Friday, Long launched the Western New York Anti Bullying project. It aims to build a distribution network with schools, youth organizations, and elected officials to share anti-bullying resources.
“But the problem is we go after those resources after the fact, after there’s an incident,” said Long. “We need to take those resources and that information and get them into the hands, the minds, the hearts of our educators, our parents and, ultimately, our children.”
Among the officials Long is working with is Erie County Legislator Ed Rath, who said bullying is an evolving problem.
“It used to be in the school yards and on the school busses, but now bullying is cyber-bullying, which is 24/7. It’s also workplace bullying. It’s mental and emotional bullying. It manifests itself in many different ways,” said Rath.
Rath said he’ll be reaching out to school superintendents in his district to inform them about the project, encourage their participation, and eventually set up seminars in schools.
16 year old Racquel Tornambe was bullied for years, and even physically attacked by a group of girls.
“It was pretty traumatizing. My sister witnessed it all, and it was even traumatizing for her, too,” said Tornambe. “So we decided I needed an outlet.”
Tornambe’s parents enrolled her in self-defense classes at Spar, where she now passes on the lessons she’s learned as an instructor.
“Some of the kids in our classes have been bullied, and I kind of share my story with them and tell them how I overcame it, and just getting them to never feel the way I felt before when I was bullied,” said Tornambe.
Children like Tornambe are taught that physical contact should always be a last resort. As she puts it, “common sense before self defense.” But learning respect, discipline, and defense gives them confidence to confront bullying when it happens.
“Maybe it’s one of their friends or someone they know. They need to stand up and say, ‘No. This is wrong. Stop.’ And when that happens, statistically it really almost eliminates that particular bullying incident,” said Long.
The anti-bullying project will hold information sessions each month in the community, create an advisory board, and set up an email network for promoting awareness of anti-bullying resources. Long said he’ll also work with other self-defense schools to establish scholarships for children who otherwise can’t afford to attend self-defense classes.