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BCHS now home to Upstander Ambassador program

Filed in Archive by on May 5, 2017

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On April 24, the BCHS chapter of No Place for Hate helped launch a new initiative to address online safety and digital citizenship for students. That’s when the school club welcomed the Siena College Cyberbullying Ambassadors, a group of trained college students who travel to area schools building a coalition of student leaders to help address issues of bullying.

Designed as an innovative peer-to-peer training program, the goal for students who get involved is to utilize age-appropriate dialogue about online behavior that resonates with friends and classmates. The visiting college students spent the day helping to train a select group of Bethlehem students. Now this group of about two dozen are BCHS Upstander Ambassadors at the school and are serving as role models in combating online bullying.

Bethlehem Central High School is the first school in the area to have a group of high school students trained as part of the college program. The Cyberbullying Ambassadors Program is co-sponsored by Siena College, AT&T, and the Tyler Clementi Foundation. 

After their day-long training, the group hosted its first school-wide assembly for all ninth and tenth graders with the help of the visiting college students. The goal of the assembly and for the new BCHS ambassadors was to demonstrate what being an “upstander” looks like and how to educate others to be one. The new BCHS Upstander Ambassadors used skits and videos to engage their fellow students. They modeled situations where small actions or words of support could de-escalate cyberbullying or other situations where students felt threatened or ridiculed.

No Place for Hate faculty advisor Megan McGinnis said the students who were selected to be the high school’s Upstander Ambassadors were recommended by teachers and fellow students. 

“To be an upstander means speaking up or doing something when we see bullying, online or otherwise,” said McGinnis. “For students, it also means seeking out a trusted adult when something doesn’t look or feel right.

“Having student ambassadors who can carry that message, we believe, can have a greater impact on their peers,” said McGinnis. “Students today come face-to-face with some really tough issues online and on social media. We want them to know there are many people right here they can turn to for advice.”

In a study conducted last fall by the Siena College Research Institute, Capital Region teens cited the following as reasons they believe cyberbullies target others on social media: physical appearance (42 percent), social awkwardness (34 percent), being thought of as gay (36 percent), the clothes they wear (29 percent), being un-athletic (24 percent), having a disability (20 percent) or being sexually active (21 percent).

In a letter to parents about the new online safety initiative at the high school, Superintendent Jody Monroe said the goal of the program is to let students know that they are never alone.

“As much as we remind our students they should always seek out a trusted adult when feeling confused or threatened online or anywhere, it is understandable that peer-to-peer messaging can help bridge gaps where students may shy away from confronting some of the same issues revealed in the Siena poll,” said Superintendent Monroe. “Thank you to the students and advisors of No Place for Hate, and our high school administrators, for their efforts in bringing the Siena partnership to BCHS and for their exemplary work creating a more positive, inclusive and accepting high school environment.”

Ms. McGinnis said she plans for the new peer ambassador program to continue in 2017-18.