Students in Livingston are learning more than the 3 R’s as schools are adding Respect to the traditional Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. It’s a subject that teen musicians are tackling in a newly released music video for an anti-bullying anthem, “Stand Up,” a song by Going Dark that plays off today’s headlines of bullying taking place in schools.
The video’s release coincides with anti-bullying efforts in Livingston and nationwide throughout the month October and new state statistics that show how schools are standing up to complaints of bullying under New Jersey’s tough new anti-bullying law.
According to statistics released by the state Department of Education, the number of confirmed incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) more than tripled last year to 12,024 cases, up from about 3,400 a year earlier, according to reports filed by every school district throughout the state. The biggest problem was reported in middle schools.
Livingston students aren’t immune, although the numbers reported are much lower than other schools in the state.
Across New Jersey last week, schools held the second annual "Week of Respect" program, which was created as part of the state's anti-bullying law. Schools presented a variety of lessons to teach students that respect is an important way of being kind and good to other people, said Jacqui Byrne, the school counselor at Burnet Hill Elementary School.
“They will learn that respect means not making fun of others, always thinking about how someone else feels, and treating people the same way they would like to be treated themselves,” Byrne said.
New Jersey’s anti-bullying law for the first time requires districts to follow strict protocols in reporting and investigating all cases of possible bullying. It is considered among the toughest in the country, and advocates have said it holds schools and students accountable for what many agree is a pervasive problem. Throughout New Jersey, the 12,000 confirmed incidents stemmed from a total of more than 35,500 complaints being filed and investigated by schools – on average more than 10 per school in the state.
Livingston reported instances of HIB throughout the district in its annual report to the state Department of Education. Those numbers were presented locally to school officials at the BOE meeting on September 24.
Reports of bullying and harassment are taken seriously in Livingston schools. The district’s Code of Conduct devotes a large section on the issue. Steps to be taken are spelled out in board policies and full information is included on the District’s website. In addition, Livingston has placed bullying specialists at each school.
“Educating students and parents, in conjunction with professional development for all staff members, in all areas of Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying has proven to be the best preventative measure we could have taken,” said Lawrence Russell, the Assistant Superintendent for Student Services and Instruction.
“All stakeholders understand what HIB is and what it is not, which helps us to focus on preventing situations where an act of HIB can occur,” Russell said. “We are proud of the effort that students have taken to learn how to be tolerant of other students' differences and respecting their rights."
The efforts in schools are supported by work going on in the township, specifically by programs run by Livingston Youth and Community Services (LYCS) that provide leadership, healthy life choices and life skills education to students in Grades 1-12.
Susan Ridley supervises the LYCS programs and also helped Going Dark write the script for the music video that features a series of vignettes on bullying taking place in hallways, a school bus, and on computer. In each case, kids and teachers stand up to the taunts with positive non-violent interventions.
“There’s strength when people stand up for each other,” Ridley said. (See the video by Going Dark). Ridley appears in the video as a bullied bus monitor, a scene taken directly from headlines. Going Dark was also helped out by friends and fans when the video was shot this summer at the Monmouth Court Community Center. Directed by Crowned Eagle Film, the video features several big-name stars, including Middleweight Champion Sergio Martinez, Colleen Zenk (Emmy-nominated star of As The World Turns), Michael Park (Emmy winner, As The World Turns, B'way), and model Stephanie Pham.
It seems unlikely that the band members are target of bullies. But that’s exactly how their song was inspired. “There were just some kids at school who were really bothering me,” said Oliver Shaw, who performs with Livingston teens L.J. Militello and Alex Fogg. “I decided it’s not worth it to start a fight, to start a big problem,” Shaw said. “I thought I’d just write a song about it -- and it worked.”