Westchester Educators Meet for 'Bully' Workshop

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Peter Nelson, standing at left, leads a discussion of Westchester teachers on the film "Bully."
Peter Nelson, standing at left, leads a discussion of Westchester teachers on the film "Bully." Photo Credit: Brian Marschhauser
Teachers and administrators from Westchester County schools gathered Monday at the Jacob Burns Film Center to discuss bullying.
Teachers and administrators from Westchester County schools gathered Monday at the Jacob Burns Film Center to discuss bullying. Photo Credit: Brian Marschhauser

PLEASANTVILLE, N.Y. — The much-talked-about documentary “Bully” has made its way to the ears of Westchester teachers and administrators. Dozens of educators throughout the county came together Monday in Pleasantville to discuss how the film could be used as a teaching tool, both for themselves and their students.

“I would like to bring this back to teachers, administrators, so we can learn how to empower kids and say ‘that’s a bully,’” said Janet Madalon, a third-grade teacher at Westorchard Elementary School in Chappaqua.

Joining Madalon at the Jacob Burns Film Center were teachers and administrators from Pleasantville, Scarsdale, New Rochelle, Yonkers, Croton Harmon, Tarrytown, Dobbs Ferry, Thornwood and more.

Much of Monday’s discussion centered on how teachers and administrators can strengthen their efforts against bullying, especially when they are not around to physically stop it.

“I gotta get to my class, I’ve got this other responsibility,” said Peter Nelson, a director with the group Facing History and Ourselves. “I’d love to get the ‘Rashomon’ story on this thing, every perspective of every human being who lives, so I can get the truth about what just happened. But our reality is, we can’t.”

Though they agreed more preventative measures could be taken, some teachers said bullying cannot be eradicated completely and that focus should be placed on teaching victims how to deal with it.

“I’m not saying ‘just suck it up,’” said Brett Bowden, a teacher at Croton Harmon High School. “I would wish kids had better coping skills. Do I know what that looks like? I’m not sure. I really sense that young people today don’t have the coping skills, for whatever reason.”

The event was organized by the Jacob Burns Film Center, which first screened the film in April 2011 and has recently started showing it to local students.

“I’m hearing mixed things,” said Emily Keating, Jacob Burns’ director of education programs. “Some are touched by it, some had responses of, ‘this just happens; this is gonna happen no matter what you do.’”

“Bully” is scheduled for release on DVD in the fall, and some teachers expressed interest in showing it to their classes. The film was initially given an R-rating but was later changed to PG-13 after some strong language was removed.

“The film is a very raw film with a lot of disturbing moments in it,” said Nelson, whose organization recently created a guide to “Bully” for educators and others who work with young people. The guide can be downloaded on Facing History's website.

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