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Conference to Focus on Preventing Bullying in Schools

The New Britain Area Interfaith Conference (NBAIC) will be sponsoring a public dialogue about stopping bullying in schools and creating a culture of non-violence on Oct. 16 from 6:- 8:45 p.m. The event will be held at First Lutheran Church, located at 77 Franklin Sq. Stephen Varga, President and Sharon Chamberlain, who is on the planning committee for the NBAIC, said that they have a growing and continuing concern about bullying and violence in schools, which is one of the main reasons why they decided to hold this event.

“Since October is National Anti-Bullying month, we decided as a group of interfaith leaders, to sponsor a public dialogue where people working in the schools, parents and interested community members could come to together and share ideas. The issues related to violence in our schools is ongoing, impacts education, affects students in very harmful ways not just in terms of what happens in school but it also impacts their future choices,” said Chamberlain.

While various events have messages and objectives that are geared towards a specific age group or a specific demographic group, Chamberlain says that this event won’t be geared towards one specific group.

“It will be geared to a more general goal of creating a permanent non-violent context in our schools so young people feel safe to learn and interact in a safe and truly supportive environment every single day,” said Chamberlain.

There is no doubt that there are many challenges that face our youth today. Whether its drugs, peer pressure, technology distractions, social media or others, there’s always something that can put them in danger. That’s why it was hard for Varga, Chamberlain and the others on the board to really narrow it down to a specific focus.

“October is National Anti-Bullying Month but we wish it was called Creating Non-Violence in Schools Month or Safe School Culture Month since the “anti-bullying” terminology is such negative reflection and the terminology seems to reinforce and validate the violence by repeatedly naming it publically and nationally over and over again,” she said. “We want to stop bullying but we also think as a community of caring adults. We need to put some time and dollars into creating a permanent safe culture in school. If there was a safe culture in schools, eliminating drug dealing and drug use in schools when at school would be part of that different and new positive cultural reflection. Furthermore, we think the kids in the schools should be part of planning that new CONTEXT because they already know what the underlying problems are.”

The event will feature a wide variety of speakers and Chamberlain said they were specifically selected because they are already active in promoting non-violence in schools and creating safety cultures in school systems are large.

One speaker includes Tom Laudadio, who is the Assistant Dean at a Plainville Middle School. He will be bringing seventh and eighth graders to discuss the ALLY Program, which has reduced violence by 85 percent through a peer-to-peer training and advocacy program. Another includes area high school students who are working at The Connecticut Center for Non Violence with Victoria Christgau and they will discuss their outreach efforts at local high schools. Other speakers include John Fransenilli from the Connecticut Department of Education, Stephanie Hertz from the Anti-Defamation League and Mary Lee Morrison from PaxEducare in West Hartford. Each will speak on the various programs they have implemented throughout their region and also at the state level.

Chamberlain said that she and others attended a training session last spring in Plainville and saw the ALLY program in action. They were amazed at what new sixth grade program participants had to say about the deep feelings and experiences they have every day about violence at school. It is the board’s hope that they can implement these types of programs in New Britain and not only reach the students, but the parents as well since she said that a lot of this begins in a home environment.

Chamberlain understands that just having an open discussion is a big first step but it’s certainly not the end result. The issues are difficult to tackle and it’s going to take a lot of people – both young, middle-aged and old – to really make an impact in New Britain.

“We need to prioritize helping our young people because getting a good education and effectively completing that education is a key to our community’s future success — as representatives of local faith communities, we want to support inclusion and respect for all families of all economic status and cultural backgrounds. We really wanted to focus on doing something like this public dialogue because violence in schools really affects so many parts of who we are as community. We thought promoting this public dialogue was a good beginning — sharing and caring ideas about safety for all our kids,” said Chamberlain.

If you are interested in attending, please RSVP for the event by e-mailing NewBAIC@aol.com.