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Croton Middle School Teaches Social Media

CROTON-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – A social media education class became an important part of a three-year anti-bullying campaign in Croton-Harmon School District’s Pierre Van Cortlandt Middle School.

Tweens pondered the question about their friends’ role in bullying, set before them by teacher Johanna Mustacchi, “If you got cyber-bullied, how would they be helpful?” she asked. Despite the fact that some of the students considered digital bullying a distant threat, many nonetheless understood the consequences of vengeful Facebook hacks, citing Facebook reputations at lead-ins to jobs and good colleges.

“When I first got on Facebook I didn’t even know how to do my privacy settings,” said eighth grade student Nora Cleary. About parental restrictions on Cleary’s Facebook use, she said, “They’re like, ‘Okay, you can get a Facebook.’ They don’t think it’s a big deal, and neither do I, but I’m learning it can be.”

As the anti-bullying campaign grew, with addresses by President Obama in March , and viral videos of bullied kids standing up for themselves, Assistant Principal for Pierre Van Cortlandt Middle School, Michael Plotkin, said, “We instituted it because we recognized that the national trend and focus was on bullying and we wanted to make sure that didn’t happen here.”

Some recent research even connects bullying negative, long-term physiological effects on the brain of young adults.

The school uses the Olweus (pronounced ol-VAY-us) Anti-Bullying Program, developed by Norwegian Psychologist Dr. Dan Olweus, to produce children to teach empathy, and the tenants of an “upstander,” or a student who says something, instead of being a bystander.

Cyber-bullying education is part of the middle school’s digital media education program, which includes lessons about sexting, grooming by online predators and identity theft. The curriculum was developed by Mustacchi. “I thought, ‘Nobody is telling them about how to do this.’”

Toward the end of the program, Mustacchi paired sixth grade students with eighth grade students, and asks them to give advice about social media. Law enforcement is becoming a reoccurring character in the new drama of online social interaction.

A retired NYPD Detective, Officer Thomas Grimes, is a travelling speaker throughout the tri-state area, educating parents and students on the dangers of online communication. “About half of the disciplinary problems you’re dealing with, in the vast majority of schools from the feedback I’ve gotten, are related to the internet in some way,” said Grimes.

“We focus on moral education, character education,” said Plotkin about trying to reduce bullying in the middle school. Asked whether the program has reduced bullying, guidance counselor Carrie Bishop said, “Bullying is about getting kids to become defenders and supporters of each other. Kids will come into my office after an incident and they will say a particular student has become an upstander.”

“The school has become the hub and the expert in the community on bullying and bully-like behaviors because they call us on it even when it doesn’t happen in school,” said Plotkin. He noted that he receives phone calls on Monday mornings, with reports of bullying behaviors which occurred during the weekend.

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