Corona residents fight bullying in area school

Corona residents fight bullying in area school
By Rebecca Henely

Administrators, parents and community leaders banded together as part of a task force at IS 61 last week to combat school bullying, which is a problem for 81 percent of students at the Corona school.

“Some people may take it as a joke and it’s not a joke,” John Vargas, one of the parent leaders at IS 61 and the faith-based community organization Queens Congregations United for Action, said at the Dec. 15 event. “Bullying is something dangerous and very serious.”

The task force was built out of a partnership between the school and the action group. Those on the task force include IS 61 Principal Joseph Lisa, City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), Youth Officer for the 110th Precinct Sgt. Chris Chappell, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Queens President Patricia Mahecha, PTA President Darius Vernet, Socorro Morales of the QCUA and Joe Natale of the United Federation of Teachers. At the meeting, which about 60 people attended, the members of the task force pledged to end bullying at the school.

The QCUA said the task force would choose anti-bullying programs for the school, implement a peer mediation program and create a partnership with the community to create safe spaces for students and alert authorities to any bullying problems they have when going home or to school.

In a presentation at the meeting, IS 61 parents Javier and Maura Flores said 81 percent of students at the school have reported being threatened or bullied at least once, with 64 percent reporting harassment was a concern for them. The school has 2,226 students, 80 percent of whom are Hispanic and 90 percent of whom are on the free or reduced lunch program.

One parent, Maria Paguay, said through Vargas, who translated, that other children made fun of her son’s shoes and clothes, often in the cafeteria or during class changes.

“Her son feels very bad,” Vargas said. “He doesn’t want to come to school.”

Vargas said in addition to the task force, the school has already been working to combat the problem through some new initiatives. Each of the five “academies” at the school has a mailbox designed by Lisa, in which parents and students can drop off complaints or suggestions about bullying. The staff has been ordered to be more vigilant about bullying during entrance and dismissal times, and cameras have been installed at the entrances. The school will also survey teachers and students to get a better sense of the bullying problem. Education in cyberbullying will also be implemented.

Jamie Weisberg, executive director of QCUA, said the organization has been in partnership with IS 61 for about three years, but the subject of school bullying had been one of special interest this year.

Chappell said it was important for parents also to be vigilant about bullying.

“It is so important,” Chappell said. “Everything starts at the home.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4564.