Local schools take a stand against bullying epidemic

JOHNSBURG - Schools from across the region converged at Johnsburg Central School (JCS) earlier this month for a presentation by John Halligan, who lost his son to suicide after incessant bullying.

Thirteen-year-old Ryan took his own life, Oct. 7, 2003 after being ridiculed and humiliated by peers at school and on-line.

JCS introduced their Anti-Bullying-Committee (ABC) last year as a means to raise awareness about the bullying epidemic that is sweeping the nation and has shown up in local schools. Halligan's presentation was one of the monthly events sponsored at JCS.

Thomas Wilson, a sophomore at JCS, spearheaded the committee after admitting that, he too, is a victim of bullying. He believes that presentations like Halligan's are starting to make a difference.

"I will always remember the reactions that I saw after his talk," he said. "Two girls were standing outside the gym in tears after hearing what he had to say."

ABC faculty member Julie Wolfe was also impressed with the student reaction to Halligan.

"You could have heard a pin drop in the gymnasium," she said. "The students were so respectful and interested in what he was saying."

Students and faculty alike from Indian Lake, Long Lake, Bolton, Minerva and Newcomb Central Schools shared in Halligan's presentation.

"Mr. Halligan and his family will never be the same after losing Ryan," said Noelle Short, teacher at Long Lake Central School. "Their bravery to share their story is evidence that something positive that can really make a difference can come from a tragic experience."

Jodie Seymour of Johnsburg Central School also spoke of the important roll that adults can play in fighting the bullying problem among young people.

"Let us, the adults in their lives, be the models for tolerance and acceptance," she said.

Regardless of their grade level, gender or background experience with bullying, students wholeheartedly agreed that Halligan's powerful words caught their attention, according to Short.

"Halligan's message is a reminder that our words do have consequences," said Wolfe.

In memory of his son, Halligan has spearheaded the Vermont Bully Prevention bill which was signed into law only a few months after Ryan's death in May 2004. He also successfully led the passage of the law pertaining to mandatory suicide prevention education in public schools in April 2006 and travels all over the country to speak with students about bullying issues.

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