MS 74 pupils confront bullies

MS 74 pupils confront bullies
Photo by Phil Corso
By Phil Corso

The gymnasium at MS 74 Nathaniel Hawthorne Junior High School in Oakland Gardens echoed with cheers and excitement not typical for a Saturday afternoon last weekend.

But after a closer look, it would have been easy to see why the room full of students, teachers and parents, at 61-15 Oceania St., volunteered their time to stand up and lead.

Founders of the anti-bullying and leadership program Stand Up and Learn, George Anthony and Lindy Crescitelli brought their unique brand of internationally acclaimed teaching techniques Saturday to the group’s first major Queens event to fulfill what they said was a mission to change the bullying culture in schools everywhere.

“The idea is to come and get the entire community excited about making schools safe for everyone,” George said. “We all can be leaders and we come here to bring those leaders out.”

And their goals of community involvement were wholeheartedly met, as their visit was much more than a sit-and-watch presentation. The New York City natives and educators asked the gymnasium full of students, teachers and parents to get out of their seats and into each other’s faces to learn more about leadership.

“It’s not just an anti-bullying lesson,” Crescitelli said. “We are here to promote leadership skills and techniques to empower everyone to be the change they want to see.”

By guiding the groups through lessons in responding to negativity rather than reacting, the award-winning pair said they hoped to reach beyond the school and into the surrounding community to promote a better environment.

“We make the kids the power in the school,” George said. “The goal is for them to own those skills so they can’t wait to use them throughout their lives.”

In their opening presentation, George and Crescitelli spoke loudly and cheerfully into their microphones before having the gym full of people form one large circle inside another. The inner circle of people would get to know their partner on the outer circle and then rotate to their rights to practice engaging with people they may not have known otherwise.

School Principal Anthony Armstrong jumped right into the activities, smiling and interacting with students and teachers throughout the day. He said he was thrilled to host the Stand Up and Lead program’s only Queens visit.

Armstrong said MS 74 was one of 24 schools that were honored as official “Respect for All” schools because the faculty works year-round to promote a positive environment in the classroom and beyond.

“There’s a certain energy at this school and the community is what helps achieve this,” Armstrong said. “We want to be a ‘Respect for All’ school forever.”

George and Crescitelli led both integrated and separate sessions throughout the afternoon, including one lesson in which student representatives from each class worked with the instructors to coordinate interactive workshops to enhance leadership skills.

The Stand Up and Lead program was funded through the United Federation of Teacher’s Be BRAVE — Building Respect, Acceptance and Voice through Education — campaign, which works to combat bullying in schools.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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