Athlete helps kids combat bullying
IRONDEQUOIT -- Rochester Knighthawks player Joe Walters didn't just offer information and tips on how to handle bullying situations when he visited St. Kateri School last month.
He also shared a personal story about being bullied as a seventh-grader and what he did to make it stop.
Walters said his family had moved from Penfield to Irondequoit and he had to start at a new school. When he asked the preschool to fifth-grade students gathered on the gym floor how many of them had been the new kid in school, many of their hands went up.
Although he had already made a few friends at the new school from playing in a travel lacrosse league, one student kept attacking him with racial slurs because he is half Asian, Walters said. He held off on talking to any adults about the bullying because he feared earning a reputation for being a tattletale he added.
"Every single day, I felt sad, upset, angry and a little depressed," Walters told the students. "I didn't want to go to school."
After a month, he finally spoke to a teacher who immediately addressed the problem and put the bully in Walter's shoes by asking the bully if he would want someone calling him names every day. She also wondered why Walters had waited to speak up.
"What we can't do is ignore it or keep it in," he said of bullying behavior. "We need to tell someone right away."
Walters' message ties in with the St. Kateri's Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, explained Jeanine Connor, the school's counselor. The program was implemented in diocesan schools two years ago during Catholic Schools Week.
Focusing on four vital social environments -- the community, school, classroom and individual -- Olweus teaches staff, students and parents to look out for possible bullying situations, intervene, report and follow up.
Walters' emphasis that bullying -- whether verbal, social, physical or online -- is not a one-time incident but repeated behavior that should be reported also falls in line with the what program teaches, she said.
"We want to create a culture and environment where it's appropriate to make a report ... and something can be done about it," Connor said.
Fourth-grader Geo Rosa said Walters' recommendation to tell as many people as possible about incidents of bullying applied to him when he was bullied on the bus earlier this year.
"He called me names," Geo, 9, said of the other students' behavior.
Geo told the bus driver, who advised him to tell his parents, which he did. Now, he is on a different bus and much happier, he said, adding that he liked "everything" about Walters' presentation.
As part of its community outreach about bullying, Knighthawks players have led school assemblies on the topic for more than 10,000 students in schools across Monroe County and such surrounding districts as Holley and Batavia, Walters said.
Following discussions with a travel lacrosse team from Greece four years ago, the Knighthawks created an anti-bullying presentation for kids of all ages, explained Colton Seeberg, the team's community relations coordinator. The team also developed and signed its own anti-bullying pledge in 2012, and the team members renew the pledge annually, he said.
During his presentation, Walters mentioned the team pledge to not bully and to have another person's back if that person is bullied. The pledge also was printed on the back page of a booklet provided to every St. Kateri student, and those who signed the pledge would also receive a free ticket to a Knighthawks game, Walters added.
Connor said the Knighthawks bring strong enthusiasm to the message that the school is striving to foster through the Olweus program, which focuses on "extinguishing" the bullying behavior and not to label a child as a bully.