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RAMSEY — The Tyler Clementi Foundation is seeking to stop bullying before it does permanent damage.
Two of its national Youth Ambassadors held their first assembly here Wednesday, seeking to recruit students from high schools across Bergen County to become local representatives and organizers for their #Day1 program to end bullying, harassment and humiliation in the classroom, the workplace and the community at large.
“Our goal is to get all Bergen County schools on the same page about having a zero-tolerance policy toward bullying,” said Northern Highlands junior Melissa Reifman, a national youth ambassador for the foundation.
Along with Ridgewood High School sophomore Katie Gelshenen, the two national ambassadors have already signed on Ramsey High School junior Tyler Hornidge to lead their student effort.
“We want to turn bystanders into upstanders,” said Tyler, who is helping organize monthly meetings for the representatives at the Upper Saddle River library.
The foundation was created by Tyler’s mother, Jane, after his death by suicide in 2010 following a bullying incident at Rutgers University, where he was a freshman. She participated in Wednesday’s assemblies and counseled students on how to spread their message of support and prevention.
“The importance of #Day1 is to stop bullying before it happens,” said Clementi. “Not every incident will have the same tragic consequences as Tyler’s, but we hear from people who have lifelong scars from these encounters. It should not be considered a rite to be endured.”
The program offers variations aimed at a variety of grade levels and interest groups to guide an education process about the diverse words and topics that can cause offense, how “targets” can react when approached by an “aggressor,” and how bystanders can become “upstanders” by interceding when they witness bullying.
Groups are organized under a “person in authority” to address bullying early, share expectations and responsibilities, and verbally pledge to follow those guidelines.
“An apology also goes a long way,” said Clementi. “It doesn’t change things, but it helps.”
Representatives handed out gold wristbands to students who participated in the question-answer period.
“It’s to remind us of the Golden Rule,” Clementi said. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
For more information on participating in the #Day 1 program, visit tyerclementi.org.