Students at Newtown High School in Elmhurst take a pledge to stand up against cyberbullying

Photo by Carlotta Mohamed/QNS

Students at Newtown High School in Elmhurst are pledging to stand up against cyberbullying.

AT&T, the Tyler Clementi Foundation and Siena College teamed up with Newtown High School on Wednesday to host the AT&T and Siena Upstander Program, a cyberbullying peer-to-peer prevention program expanding to public schools across New York in 2019.

“Newtown is excited to work with AT&T and Siena college on this project.  Our students are active on the internet and we firmly believe that this training will help to keep them safe,” said Pablo Ocampo, assistant principal of Security at Newtown High School. “We are training students from our six Small Learning Communities and expect them to work with peers to promote internet safety and prevent cyberbullying.”

Six Siena students worked with 40 selected student leaders during two workshop sessions at Newtown High School — located 48-01 90th St. — on Feb. 6 to train them on how to be Upstander ambassadors to speak up against the negative behavior. 

Students discussed the use of social media, past cyberbullying experiences, and participated in an active workshop, before a screening of a student-created film produced by AT&T for its Cyberbullying Film Invitational to showcase unique and personal experiences with cyberbullying and its devastating aftermath.

“A bystander is someone who just sits and watches the bullying take place, but an upstander really steps in and stops it,” said Rebecca Goldstein, student coordinator of the Siena Upstander Program.

Goldstein added, “As technology grows more and more, it really becomes a thing in high schools and in middle schools, and even now we’re seeing it in elementary schools, and I think for us to address it would be a way to hopefully stop it and at least help some of the students who are experiencing it.”

This is the second ambassadors program in New York City to date and the first in Queens. The program brings Siena students to schools to help educate students, teachers and school administrators about online safety and provide workshops, tools and resources to combat cyberbullying.  

Created in 2017 in reaction to the results of a study which revealed that one in two students have been a victim of cyberbullying in New York City, the program’s goal is to empower students to stand up to negative online behavior, combat cyberbullying and become Upstander ambassadors within their schools and communities.

“The one thing that is really easy to do is changing the culture within schools,” said Benjamin Roberts, director of Public Affairs at AT&T. “Most students want to be bystanders or are bystanders, and that’s not any fault by themselves…they just don’t want to be the next victim or don’t know what to do. If you change, more people would be upstanders…those are the ones that will interact, console, and report the cyberbullying.”

Newtown High School student Anil Maihepat, who was bullied in middle school, said the youth have the ability and opportunity to speak up against bullying.

“When I was younger, I went through depression and I use to harm myself a lot and I received help,” said Maihepat. “I got a lot better from that, like when people tell me something mean I don’t take it on anymore.”

Another Newtown High School student Nyeisha Telfer, says she feels the need to help others who may be experiencing some form of bullying.

“No matter what someone tells you, you should always have an open mind that nothing is wrong with you. You may be different, but your made different,” said Telfer. “Your specifically picked and chosen and created the way you are for a reason, and you should never doubt yourself or feel like there’s something wrong with you personally because you’re not like everyone else because in anyway you’re still beautiful just like everybody else.”

The Upstander ambassador peer-to-peer training program joins a first-of-its-kind online safety pilot program, ScreenReady℠, that AT&T launched in New York City in late 2018 after a new study found children and teens are spending more time than ever online and on their mobile devices – and engaging in risky behaviors without their parents’ knowledge. Both ScreenReady℠ and the AT&T and Siena Upstander Program are being expanded to public schools as an extension of AT&T Believes℠, a larger Company-wide initiative which aims to create positive change in local communities.

More from Around New York