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Anti-bullying program has proven itself effective

Sixth graders sign their pledge and decorate the poster that will hang on their wall this year. Clockwise from left, Zach Hall (in green), Sam McClintic, Elizabeth Williams, Abbey Logan, Ellie Angus and Cassidy Pitman.

Sixth graders sign their pledge and decorate the poster that will hang on their wall this year. Clockwise from left, Zach Hall (in green), Sam McClintic, Elizabeth Williams, Abbey Logan, Ellie Angus and Cassidy Pitman. Lori Ruhlman

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High School students Phoebe Yates and Ryan Nicholson talk about bullying with sixth graders in the auditorium.

— After a morning of intense conversations and activities led by high school students, sixth graders at Skaneateles Middle School recently signed contracts promising to work to combat bullying.

The pledges they signed were personal, because they came up with many of the specifics themselves during an annual program called “Be Cool Not Cruel.”

Overall, the contracts say students “solemnly swear to abide by the following contract from this day forward, as long as we are students at Skaneateles Central School, in order to promote a positive school atmosphere where all students are respected.”

In several large assembly sessions and in small intimate groups, 36 confident and enthusiastic high school student volunteers urged the sixth graders to rise above the cattiness and bullying that can be common in middle school. The trained high school students and the sixth graders talked candidly about things that matter all through life, and about qualities that make good human beings great.

Most of the high school students who volunteered for the day remember attending the “Be Cool Not Cruel” event when they were in sixth grade. The program is about 20 years old.

During a small group labeling activity, sixth graders wore labels on their foreheads (but didn’t know what the labels said). They were asked to tell the group what they would want to have with them if they were left alone on a deserted island. While they talked, the group reacted to them based on the label they had on their forehead. The labels said things like “ignore me,” “I am smart,” “fear me,” “I am annoying” and “praise me.”

They were able to guess quite accurately what their labels said by the way that others treated them. They then discussed how it felt to be labeled, and were encouraged to look beyond labels in their daily lives, and not to quickly judge others by the clothes they wear or the way they look.

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