Wallenpaupack School officials, student artists take stand against cyber-bullying

Teenagers in the Alternative Center program at the Wallenpaupack Hawley Center have taken a stand against bullying.

Teenagers in the Alternative Center program at the Wallenpaupack Hawley Center have taken a stand against bullying.
They have not done so by fighting back in the way or manner of those who harass other students. These students are wielding paint brushes.
With the guidance of their Dean of Students, Anthony Donnini and Stephen Rishko, art teacher at North Primary School, they have fashioned a large mural on the wall of their gymnasium.
Their colorful creation is a statement against all form of bullying behavior - the traditional kind including verbal attacks and physical assaults, and the newer, electronic form known as cyber bullying.
The “Alternative Center” meets on the ground floor of the former Hawley High School on Academy Street. In its second year, the program is for students in grades 9- 12 who are “finding their way,” stated Dr. Joann Hudak, Assistant Superintendent. They may have been in trouble for truancy, drugs, weapons violations or other problems, and are here for a second chance. Students are evaluated every 45 days to see if they are ready to return to the regular high school. Counseling is offered.
Wallenpaupack runs the program, but has agreements with Western Wayne and Wayne Highlands school districts, to include their students. Presently there are 40 students enrolled.
While bullying behavior is not limited to the Alternative Center, staff has witnessed instances and have moved to be proactive.
Donnini said that they hope the mural will serve as a symbol that their school is an “anti-bully zone.” While they do not expect to stop every incident, they hope the mural helps to remind students and cause them to think twice before engaging in this activity.
Different world
“It used to be, ‘I’ll meet you behind the bus...’,” Donnini said of traditional threats students would face. “Today it’s a whole different world.”
Bullying, defined as a deliberate action or behavior meant to humiliate, embarrass or torment someone, has vastly expanded due to he proliferation of computers and advancing communication technology. Across America, bullying has become easier and no longer largely confined to the school grounds.
Earlier generations of students may have felt the home was safe from the taunts they endured at school.  Now they carry cell phones and texting devices  everywhere, and spend hours at home on Facebook and other social networking sites. They discover classmates harassing them on-line, poking fun at their expense, intimidating them through the world of electronics for everyone else who is connected, to see. Cyber bullying can lead to actual face to face fights.
So-called friends- classmates who are fine with them in person, turn ugly hiding behind the keyboard and text pad.  Attacks become even more viscous, as other students- often trying to be anonymous- pounce on their prey.
Thus the image of wolves on the mural. Their hurtful and hate-filled attack is illustrated by flame and smoke rising from the wolf pack.  A skeleton is shown, colored like Army camouflage- depicting so-called friends in hiding.
Also pictured are images of activities students appreciate as wholesome and uplifting- such as enjoying life with real friends, on the skate board, motorcycle, playing musical instruments or doing art work.
Keri-Ann Shevlin, an 11th grader who helped on the mural, said that she hopes the mural helps younger students understand about bullying. Kade Kolheffer, also in 11th grade and one of the seven artists of the mural,  added, “I wanted to show that cyber bullying doesn’t make you cool.” He said he sees it every day on-line.
Other students who worked on the mural include Kayla Murphy, Junius Williams, Michael Dunn, Ronald Alexander and Jesse Norman.
Rishko, besides teaching art, also instructs North Primary children about technology. He speaks with them about bullying behavior. Rishko and Donnini said that students are opening up, coming in confidence to share about their problems with bullying.  This is seen as an important step. He commented that the mural is serving to “break the ice” for students to seek help.
Work with parents
Dr. Hudak said they it is important to work with parents on this issue. State law no expands the jurisdiction of the School District to discipline students for behavior such as bullying that occurs outside the school property, if there is proof. This is difficult to do, without parental cooperation.
Information is given to parents to help make them aware of the problem and advice to monitor what the student is doing.  
Wallenpaupack also incorporates anti--bullying information into their curriculum and has special speakers address the students. The District incorporates a program into their curriculum known as i-SAFE, which promotes proper use of the Internet and other technological resources.
Dr. Hudak said that bullying is most often seen in the Middle School grades, though it is showing up in younger grades. High School students who are maturing, tend to abandon that type of behavior.
Dr. Hudak added that it is important to intervene in this behavior, as the forms of harassment can get worse and negatively impact on students as they enter their adult lives. She expressed enthusiasm that this mural is just the beginning of more initiatives.