Featured Story

Riverhead fourth graders honored for anti-bullying efforts

Fourth graders at Roanoke and Phillips Avenue elementary schools received national recognition for their efforts against bullying last week.

The Riverhead Peacemakers, a student-led anti bullying movement, were honored with the United for Kindness award from PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center at their national awards May 22.

The award is a “celebration of those helping to create a world without bullying, whether it’s building awareness of bullying prevention, inspiring and empowering others to take positive action or advocating for those that need support,” according to the organization. Groups from across the country were nominated for the honor.

“We appreciate all the hard work the [Riverhead Peacemakers] have put into this important issue and are excited to recognize their efforts,” Bailey Huston, coordinator for PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, said in a statement.

The group was founded at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School in 2012 by Morgan Dunn, who is now in ninth grade. Determined to stop bullying in her school, Morgan approached principal Tom Payton with the idea, which has blossomed into a district-wide movement.

Their mission is to make a difference by speaking up and not being a ‘bystander,’ forgiving, including and accepting others and seeking help when needed.

Mr. Payton described the club as an “invaluable” asset to the building. “The students learn the value of choosing kindness and they spread that message throughout the building during the school year.”

Both Roanoke and Phillips Avenue schools celebrate the “Great Kindness Challenge” every year in January, where students engage in random acts of kindness.

Peacemakers in both schools meet with Riverhead Community Awareness Program social worker Shannon Kutner, who helps to coordinate the program.

During recess, the group discusses ways to prevent and reduce bullying in their schools. They begin the school year by reading “The Juice Box Bully,” a book that encourages children to stand up for others when they see injustice. Students then sign a pledge not to bully — and to speak up if someone is being bullied.

Their efforts have also led to the district becoming a “Kindness Certified School District” by the worldwide organization Kids for Peace.

Ms. Kutner praised the students for their dedication to the mission. “We are lucky to have so many wonderful, intelligent, caring youth here,” she said.

At Phillips Avenue, students were thrilled by the news and motivated to continue the movement. “It feels good because we earned this by participating in The Great Kindness Challenge and practicing kindness,” said fourth grader Jefferson Ajcuc Arevalo, who added that the Peacemakers feels like a “family.”

Olivia Capobianco, a fourth grader at Phillips Avenue School, added that the group has been working hard to do secret kindness missions. “The best reward is seeing all of the smiles afterwards,” she said.

Phillips Avenue principal Deb Rodgers said the Peacemakers have given students the opportunity to lead by example. “They have helped transform the culture of our school to be more welcoming, accepting and safer for all students and families,” she said.

[email protected]