A fourth-grade project led students at Stanley M. Makowski Early Childhood Center to stand together this week against a common enemy – bullying.
Little did they realize they are among a growing chorus of voices weighing in.
State officials, from the governor on down, have been raising concerns about reports of bullying, intimidation and hate crimes following the presidential election. Incidents have included racist graffiti on a baseball dugout in Wellsville and another on a residence hall at SUNY Geneseo.
In the aftermath, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered a state probe and announced a statewide task force to investigate hate crimes.
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman sent a letter to school districts last week with guidance on how to ensure that schools are “safe havens” from discrimination, harassment and intimidation.
Leaders from Buffalo Public Schools sent a letter of their own home to district parents who may be feeling a little anxious.
“Our homes, our schools and our classrooms must be safe havens for our students,” the letter reads . “We will continue to urge our teachers to engage students and each other in substantive, civil and productive discourse about all matters educational.”
Leading the way for the district were students at Makowski, which serves grades pre-kindergarten to fourth. The students on Tuesday declared their Jefferson Avenue school a "bully-free" zone.
"Bullying is wrong and it's not cool to bully. If someone is bullying they're probably just jealous," said fourth-grader Nasean Grant.
"It was fun to show everybody we care about stopping bullying," said fourth-grader Eric Talley.
The effort wasn't specifically tied to incidents after the presidential election, but was part of a fourth-grade project that grew out of a weeks-long unit on “Dignified Dissenters" - people who have seen a social injustice and peacefully worked to correct it, explained Makowski teacher Daniel Miller.
That said, the fallout from the election certainly gave teachers the opportunity to talk about bullying that happens outside school walls even among adults, said Principal Tracie-Michele Lewis.
“Raise your hand if you’ve been bullied,” the principal said during the assembly.
Nearly the entire room of kids raised their hands.
“Raise your hand if you have been a bully,” she said. “Tell the truth.”
A few hands went up.
“Everyone has the right to come to school and feel good and safe," she told the kids, "and when bullying is going on you don’t feel that.”
The students ended the day with a silent protest against bullying outside on the school lawn.