Today’s young students often fall victim to bullying that has taken on a new form with the rapidly changing technology, and county officials continued to try to combat it.
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy held an event to discuss the county’s efforts to combat bullying at Colonie Central High School Wednesday, Sept. 30. McCoy was joined by Town Supervisor Paula Mahan, educators with the Albany County Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center and members of the high school’s iCARE program.
The county launched its Bullying Prevention Task Force about two years ago and has since been working to provide programs to educate young people, school staff and caregivers to recognize the signs of bullying and how to provide a positive environment for a child.
However, bullying has become more difficult to recognize with the height of online activity.
“When we were growing up, there was no internet, no cell phones,” said McCoy. “You might have gotten bullied at schools, but when you got home, no one could get to you. That was your safe zone.”
McCoy said the abundance of social networking has allowed different platforms for people, particularly school-aged, to feel anonymous. Sites like the former social media site Formspring garnered controversy over the amount of harassment toward teenagers on the site.
Some teens have also been known to post their own profiles, then anonymously harass themselves as a form of self-harm, said McCoy.
“Today’s kids, unfortunately, 24/7, you’re sitting there looking at your cell phones…. You can’t get away from it. It’s hard enough growing up, being a kid, just trying to find your own way in this world,” he said, which is why he commended Colonie Central High School’s iCARE program.
The iCARE program, standing for integrity, community, accountability, respect and empathy, is comprised of students and headed by the high school’s assistant principal Thomas Kachadurian. The program works to build character and a sense of community to combat harassment and possible causes of bullying.
Kachadurian was also honored at a ceremony Tuesday, Sept. 29, as September Albany County’s Citizen of the Month for his efforts with iCARE. McCoy said Kachadurian wants to work to expand the program into schools throughout the county.
“If you look at sons and daughters, your own sons and daughters, or the students that are out there in other schools, and you think that these kids have unique experiences purely because they make it themselves, they have to be provided with the opportunities,” said Kachadurian of the Colonie High iCARE students and the work they’ve done.
Bullying, he said, has to be combated by “cultural immersion to acceptable behaviors, persistent positive peer pressure, or, in the simplest sense, educating at-risk students in how to break their habits.”
John Cogan, Colonie High student and iCARE president, said he had been bullied when he was younger and was glad to have the program to give other students and potential bullies a safe place.
A bully often “lacks a place where they feel they belong, or lack friends that are true to them,” Cogan said. “We in iCARE look for what has not been learned… We try to teach through compassionate acts. We like to model the change we want to see in others.”
The high school program is responsible for South Colonie’s now annual Raiderfest—a 12-hour, daylong festival in May that brings community members from across the county to the Colonie High School campus.
The festival is run by student volunteers from the high school. It’s second year held this past May had about 560 volunteers, and Kachadurian said the anticipation for the festival often has the school buzzing with excitement. And in its first year alone, Raiderfest brought in $15,000 for the American Cancer Society.
“We just had to provide the right opportunity,” said Kachadurian. He said about 40 percent of the school’s population has been involved in iCARE at some point, and since it was established, forms of bullying has decreased about 25 percent.
“No matter what kind of kid attends our meetings, they are all looking for the same things—a place to belong, a place to be accepted,” said Cogan. “What we learn together will make us leaders.”