Motorcycle riders from the metropolitan area and members of the Thornwood Fire Department participated in a rally across the street from Columbus Elementary School last Wednesday to highlight the problem of bullying.
The idea for the event came from Kristen Palamara, a parent of a Columbus Elementary School student who has been a bullying victim. She said she thought of the rally because her son, Joey, a fifth-grader, has been repeatedly terrorized at school as the prevalence of bullying has continued unabated.
“I just wanted my son to realize that he’s got a lot of people behind him,” Palamara said.
Six motorcyclists and a fire truck from the Thornwood Fire Department parked across the street from the school on Columbus Avenue. Joey Palamara was escorted from the school at the conclusion of the academic day by his mother and one of the bikers.
Palamara, who was joined by other community members, said she has spoken with parents who have been dissatisfied with how district officials have been handling the persistent bullying of their children at school. The school’s psychologists and a few of the teachers have been highly receptive, but response has been lacking, Palamara said.
“They say they’re doing something but us as parents don’t get to see any consequences,” she said.
Her son has not wanted to attend school because of the problem, Palamara said.
“I have to fight with him to go to school some days,” she said. “He doesn’t want to see kids. Sometimes during lunch, he sits in the nurse’s office because he doesn’t want to be around these kids.”
There are those in the community who do not believe bullying is a problem in the Mount Pleasant School District, Palamara said.
“A lot of people think bullying happens everywhere but here,” she said. “It’s right in your backyard.”
Bullying can have deadly consequences. The 11-year-old son of a friend’s friend took his own life because he was bullied, she said.
One of the bikers who participated in last week’s rally simply wanted to be identified as Evil.
“We deplore bullying,” the Bronx resident said. “Kids have enough trouble as it is growing up in this world. They don’t need to be bullied.”
Mount Pleasant School District administrators, while not commenting on Palamara’s situation, said last week they understood the problem. The district has programs in place to prevent and deal with bullying, they said.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Susan Guiney said while the rally was not a school event, its message was important: bullying is a nationwide concern.
“In our schools we have a number of pieces put into place, a number of different components of what we do with social, emotional learning with our children to help children to be more empathetic,” Guiney said. “Teaching children to have empathy for others is really the best way that we can combat bullying in our schools.”
For example, at Columbus Elementary School this year, students are being encouraged to advocate for good behavior and model that behavior for their peers, Guiney said.
Columbus Elementary School Principal Michael Cunzio said although the school wasn’t involved with last week’s rally, the event can help to highlight the problem.
“I think bullying is a problem facing all schools, whether it’s here in Mount Pleasant, Westchester County or across the country,” Cunzio said. “Anything that we can do to raise awareness in the community is a good thing.”
When school officials learn of a bullying problem, a guidance counselor will work with students, Cunzio said.
“We try to address things proactively by doing a lot of different programs,” he said. “If concerns come up, we have to address them as they’re presented to us.”
Palamara said she hopes the rally will help other students step forward and ask for help if needed.
“I just hope that our message was heard and any other children that are victims of bullying now know it is okay to talk to someone,” she said.