‘Week of Respect’ empowers students

Red Bank Regional hosts events to promote anti-bullying culture

Staff Writer

 Sophie Walker (l-r) and Eden Sanaa, of the Project Girl Performance Collective empowerment performance troupe, act out a scene for students at Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver on Oct. 2 during the Week of Respect.  JEFF GRANIT staff Sophie Walker (l-r) and Eden Sanaa, of the Project Girl Performance Collective empowerment performance troupe, act out a scene for students at Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver on Oct. 2 during the Week of Respect. JEFF GRANIT staff I t was a week of magic shows, flash mob dances, poetry readings, and performances about personal empowerment.

This year marked the second annual Week of Respect for Red Bank Regional High School (RBR). The school’s 1,100 students attended and participated in theatrical performances, presentations, poetry readings, and flash mob dances as part of an effort to raise awareness and foster openness in the battle against bullying.

On Oct. 2, RBR hosted the Project Girl Performance Collective, a troupe of young performers who write and perform scenes that deal with topics such as self-esteem.

Ashley Marinaccio, a graduate of RBR’s Visual and Performing Arts Academy, is the artistic director for the collective, which was founded as an empowerment performance troupe.

 View the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niEplwOMCNE View the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niEplwOMCNE While the all-female troupe did focus on a number of female-specific problems, many of their scenes spoke directly to the young males in the audience as well.

“In a way, the show kind of spoke to me,” said one male student, during a question and-answer period following the Project Girls show.

“Not so long ago, I hurt the feelings of someone I care about. It’s kind of been eating away at me and I don’t know at all how she feels right now. … I want to say how much I appreciate that your show kind of told me sort of how she might be feeling. So thank you.”

On Oct. 5, RBR concluded the Week of Respect by staging a collaborative social event for all eighth-graders in the district’s Red Bank, Little Silver and Shrewsbury middle schools.

Principal Risa Clay said the “inter-district field day” was a way to introduce students and break down barriers before starting high school.

“It kind of goes along with the idea of getting to know each other and being comfortable with each other,” she said. “Our kids come from all different districts. A lot of them don’t know each other, and there is a sort of newness with our freshmen.”

She said that this newness can be a significant factor in bullying incidents at RBR, where younger students are in the midst of a difficult transition from one school culture to another and encountering new faces for the first time.

“Sometimes, even with adults, what happens is, a lot of what occurs is misunderstanding, because you just don’t know each other. You don’t give each other a chance,” she said.

In addition to fostering camaraderie among the school’s younger learners, RBR has also been battling bullying and other interpersonal issues through The Source, a school-based youth services program that provides counseling, preventive health care, planning, and other support services to any student who requires them.

Co-founded in 1999 by Clay and the YMCA of Red Bank and partially funded by a state grant, The Source staffs multiple licensed clinicians, counselors and outreach workers. Program coordinator Suzanne Keller said one of The Source’s goals is to provide a forum for conflict resolution, where students can learn to work out differences among themselves before the issues turn into larger problems.

“Our job is to work with these kids to change the climate and the culture of the school by teaching them healthy coping, healthy ways to deal with conflict resolution,” she said. “We are a place where they can come down and talk about it before it gets too large. Essentially, we can de-escalate it.”

She said that by learning how to communicate and solve problems without resorting to more drastic measures, students can learn effective social skills that will help them both in school and later in life.

Another service provided by The Source is the Teen Outreach Program (TOP), which offers participants school credit while they work collaboratively on socially-driven projects.

Keller said TOP projects, such as a recent one in which two incoming freshmen raised $2,000 for suicide prevention with an “Out of Darkness” walk, can improve students’ self image and give them a sense of empowerment.

“We work on projects to build their selfesteem so that they will feel like they have a voice and that they can use their voice,” she said.

“Then they can impact what’s going on in the school, rather than the school impacting them. They feel like they can make a change in their school.” Other RBR programs, like the studentled Buc Team, train students to act as peer mediators and talk to their classmates in a more relatable, less intimidating way.

There is also the Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) Committee, a collection of administrators, faculty, students and parents who meet monthly to discuss awareness activities.

Kadayjah Smith, RBR senior and member of the HIB Committee, said students can help change the culture that leads to bullying by getting actively involved.

“You have to lead by example. You have to practice what you preach or else no one will look up to you,” said Smith, who participated in the Week of Respect by reading respect-related quotes over the PA system in the morning, following the Pledge of Allegiance.

She said that she had once encountered a group of people making fun of a student for a speech impediment during lunch, and even though she was friends with the group, she spoke up against them.

“I don’t know if they thought I was going to laugh along with them, but I said no. That’s just not OK. Imagine if it was you.”

Later, when she saw the student sitting alone at a lunch table, she made it a point to invite him to sit with her.

“It’s the little things that count. The little things can impact somebody’s life in a huge way sometimes.”

The New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (ABBRA), passed in 2010 and signed into law on Jan. 5, 2011, requires all public schools in the state to designate antibullying personnel, conduct specific training programs and events, and follow new reporting guidelines.

According to data released by the state on Oct. 2, schools recorded more than 12,000 confirmed incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) in the 2011-12 school year — the first year the new ABBRA mandates were in effect. Overall, more than 35,000 HIB incidents were reported.

Data, which shows that only one-third of the reported HIB incidents in 2011-12 were ultimately confirmed, has caused critics of the bill to question the impact of the new requirements on faculty and administrators.

Clay, however, said that all reported HIB incidents are important in some way.

“Either way, the behavior needs to be addressed,” she said. “I know some places are like, we’re getting inundated with bad referrals. But it’s still a good referral. It might not be categorized as HIB, but it definitely warrants the attention and the education.

“I think it prevents future HIB,” she added. “Hopefully, you’re getting a kid early so that you don’t have a future HIB offender. A serious HIB offense, that can follow a kid for like life. You don’t want those.”