More than 100 adults and many more children gathered at East Hanover Middle School (EHMS) Wednesday for the second annual Community Night of Respect.
While students went into separate activities designed to educate them about bullying, parents, administrators, teachers and invited guests sat in the auditorium to learn what EHMS administrators and students were doing to prevent bullying and how they, too, could play a role.
Superintendent Dr. Joseph Ricca introduced Nicolina Boeckel and Renee Racioppi, the East Hanover Middle School student body president and vice president from the 2011-12 school year.
Along with the administration and Morris County Crime Stoppers, Boeckel and Racioppi helped start a Bust-a-Bully program at EHMS, which allows students to report instances of bullying anonymously via telephone, email or text.
Racioppi and Boeckel both spoke about the aspects of bullying they find disturbing. Boeckel spoke of her pride in the Bust-a-Bully program, which she said helped protect her fellow schoolmates from being bullied.
Ricca said the anti-bullying programs at EHMS, including Bust-a-Bully, were developed in a way that will allow other schools to replicate them.
Racioppi said to her, the people who stand by and watch bullying happen, without standing up to the bully or showing the victim some compassion, are worse than the bullies themselves.
"The bully is the one coming up with the comments and putting the victim down," she said, "but I feel like the people who aren't even saying anything, and you know that they hear it, ... I feel like those are the worst people in these situations."
Her comments provided a segue into a presentation entitled, "Bystander: A Portrait of Apathy." The presentation combined student actors with an audio-visual production. The overall message was that one student who showed some kindness to bullying victims could make a difference.
The presentation was developed by Jillian Palmieri, a former teacher from New Jersey who brought her program to EHMS.
A panel of psychologists from the New Jersey Psychological Association closed the evening with a presentation on the four possible roles in bullying—the bully, the victim, the bystander and the upstander—and tools parents can use to address bullying with their children.
The participating psychologists were Dr. Jeannine Zoppi, Dr. Phyllis L. Bolling, Dr. Carol A. Friedman and Laura E. Koller. A hard copy of their PowerPoint presentation was available at the Community Night of Respect, along with other resources for victims of bullying and their families.
Assemblyman John F. McKeon, who was a primary sponsor of the Anti-Bullying Law, also spoke about bullying at the opening of the event. "If you look at the statistics, one out of every four of us was bullied," he told a room full of parents, teachers, representatives, school administrators and law enforcers.
Besides McKeon, New Jersey Senator Anthony Bucco, Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey and Morris County Sheriff Edward V. Rochford were also in attendance, along with representatives from the Morris County Prosecutor's Office.