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Mamaroneck Schools Tackle Cyber-Bullying

MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- Many students get bullied, but the explosion of social media has allowed those bullies to follow more and more kids into their homes through an alarming trend known as cyber-bullying, said Dr. Nora Mazzone, assistant principal at Hommocks Middle School.

Not only is cyber-bullying hurting students emotionally, Mazzone said it is preventing them from focusing on school. "We know that what our kids are doing online is impacting their ability to focus in school, and we needed to get a better handle on it, proactively," said Mazzone, who noted that kids are now going to their guidance counselors every day with these issues.

To that end, Mazzone and Mamaroneck High School Assistant Principal Steve Frasene have spearheaded a comprehensive plan to educate everyone in the community on cyber-bullying. Through a $15,000 Mamaroneck Schools Foundation grant, they hired Cyber Smarts and national speaker Katie Koestner to host a series of workshops that will include a crash course on the troublesome world of cyber-bullying and the keys to safe online behavior.

"All of this will be a success if kids gain a better understanding of when to seek an adult's help and if parents become better informed on how to respond when their children come to them to say they have been bullied online," Dr. Mazzone said.

Koestner, who has been on the cover of TIME Magazine and various talk shows, will address socialization skills in an online world, personal photos online and sexting, pranks and practical jokes versus bullying, profiling by future employers and school admissions counselors, and more.

In addition, the Hommocks will issue surveys before and after the workshops to both students and staff about cyber-bullying to measure any changes in perception and plan future programs based on the need.

Mazzone believes it's crucial to reach out to students at this age, when social relationships and fitting in become paramount. Although the guidance department hasn't noticed this trend among many sixth graders, Mazzone said, by the time students reach eighth grade, everyone knows about Facebook.

"It's like anything, the earlier you can reach these kids with these anti-bullying messages the better," said Debbie Manetta, spokesperson for the Mamaroneck School District.

While these problems are beginning to crop up in middle school, students are completely immersed in this online world by high school, said Nadja Lamaute, a science teacher at a Rockland County High School and doctoral student at Pace University.

"At the high school level, it transposes itself in a different aspect, where you'll have a lot of internalization at the middle school, you'll have more outward altercations at the high school level," said Lamaute, who will analyze the results of the pre and post workshop surveys. "So, cyber bullying feeds to traditional bullying."

The presentation for parents will be held Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. in the McLain Auditorium. Koestner will also hold a workshop in the afternoon for some 250 staff and faculty. The next day, Dec. 15, Hommocks and Mamaroneck High School Students will participate in workshops throughout the day. Workshops will be separated by gender in the middle school.

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