Nicholas A. Ferri Middle School Assistant Principal Fred Skipworth is looking to make every student a H.E.R.O. during anti-bullying month.
It’s a fitting acronym that stands for “help, encourage and respect others,” and both Skipworth and School Resource Officer Brooke Ardito are going to reinforce it throughout the month of March during a series of events and initiatives.
“Our goal is to promote kindness and acceptance, and educate students that bullying is not tolerated at any time, in school or out,” Ardito said. “We hope to achieve this by including team building activities, dress-up awareness days, presentations, acts of kindness recognitions, bully prevention displays and through promotional products.”
Skipworth, Ardito and four members of the school’s Above the Influence club – Josh Galeas, Michael Camarena, Josephine Olagundoye and Jackson Troxell – met with the Sun Rise last Friday afternoon to dive deeper into what the month means for the administration, as well as students.
Skipworth said ATI got involved in anti-bullying month because students may turn toward drugs or other harmful vices due to outside pressures or circumstances like bullying.
“I think it definitely coincides with bullying and trying to be respectful to each other and show kindness so that people don’t think that those are the options they have to go to,” Skipworth said.
Olagundoye said she received more information about the club from her sister, and she liked the idea of joining.
“For me, I was in elementary school when I heard, ‘Middle school’s rough. There’s a lot of influence,’” she said. “And I heard that Above the Influence was about recognizing those different influences that we face every day, and then being able to make your own decision.”
She then told Camarena more about the group, and he became inspired to include himself as well.
“She told me about this club and I said, ‘Wow, that’s interesting.’ I want to know how this happens and why it happens, and I want to prevent it,” Camarena said.
Now, the students have joined forces with Skipworth and Ardito to bring a calendar of events to the school this month, culminating in a March 27 presentation through the Department of Corrections. A panel will come in to discuss making the right choices and smart decisions for oneself, rather than someone else doing it for them.
There will also be an event centered on opioid use, as well as mix-it-up lunches that will allow students to chat with classmates with whom they don’t usually sit. Skipworth added that teachers will have tags to hand out to students who perform random acts of kindness.
Those who receive one will earn a spot at a brunch hosted in conjunction with the Johnston Police Department.
“I want students to understand what bullying is and the repercussions that can occur, if not reported and handled immediately,” Ardito said. “Every student should be able to attend school and receive an education without unnecessary distractions.”
Skipworth said he grasps first-hand how important anti-bullying measures are for middle school students. He said he was pestered in middle school because he carried around a click pen.
“Bullying is an issue that, I hate to sound cliché, but is near and dear to me because I remember what it was like in middle school and kids will pick on anything,” Skipworth said. “Everywhere I went, everyone said ‘Click, click. Click, click, click.’ There was no point to it, there was no reason for it other than just to kind of assert that power over someone else.”
Both Ardito and Skipworth stressed the importance of bullying prevention.
“People don’t understand what bullying actually is,” Ardito said. “Many students are affected by the little, constant name-calling or looks or, really, exclusion. Being excluded from things, even the silent treatment, has a big effect on some of these kids.”
Olagundoye said ATI has allowed her and her fellow members to become more knowledgeable about bullying and its prevention, which has worked to “shy us away from making those bad decisions.”
“Also, in health class, we touch upon it briefly, but then Above the Influence is also a way where you can get more information and use what you know to build campaigns and work with other people,” Olagundoye said.