Tag Archive | "barbara bekermus"

Sag Harbor School District Presents Budget Draft on PPS, Transportation and Technology

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By Tessa Raebeck

In the third budget presentation before the Sag Harbor Board of Education this school year, district administrators outlined their respective draft budgets for Pupil Personnel Services, technology and transportation.

In addition to the 2-percent tax levy cap, the district must contend with state-mandated instructional training, data reporting and technology equipment to meet new educational standards.

PPS Director Barbara Bekermus presented her department budget to the board on Monday. Ms. Bekermus has included an increase of 20 percent, or $5,000, under “instructional salary tutor” because she feels the demand for at home tutoring is growing.

Overall, the PPS department asked the board to increase its funding by 3.83 percent or $184,337 for a total of  $4.81 million.

Director of Technology Scott Fisher presented his portion of the budget, saying that many of his requests stemmed from direct conversations he had with the teachers and administrators at both Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle and High School “to try and better understand what the instructional needs of the students are.”

“By and large,” Mr. Fisher told the small crowd, “what I heard from the teachers was everything’s running really well, but we need to have more computers.”

Technology equipment expenses are projected to increase by 15.63 percent, representing an increase of $125,904 from last year’s budget for a proposed total of $931,640.

The transportation budget, prepared by Head Bus Driver Maude Stevens and presented to the board by School Business Administrator John O’Keefe, asks for a 0.98 percent increase, or $7,300. If accepted, the department’s total budget would be $750,992.

During the 2014-2015 school year, with payments spread between July 2014 and June 2015, the district will pay $1.44 million in debt service for bonds issued in 2006, 2009 and 2011.

Middle Schoolers Learn How To Be “Upstanders”

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By Claire Walla

“The world is a dangerous place because of the people who stand by the side and do nothing.”

This sentiment — a quote attributed to Albert Einstein – was part of a student presentation shown to Sag Harbor School Board members at a meeting last Wednesday, November 2.

Its message — a call to action — represents the crux of the issue highlighted “The Middle School Tolerance and Anti-Bullying Conference,” a workshop 20 Pierson middle schoolers attended last Wednesday, October 26 at the tail end of Red Ribbon Week.

The event, which was put on by the Holocaust Center in Commack, brought together approximately 200 students from across Long Island, and it placed an emphasis on those aspects of the bullying cycle that extend beyond merely the bully himself and his victim.

Pierson students Casey Grubb, Alex Kamper, Isabelle Peters and Ariana Moustakas — all members of the middle school student council or class representatives — attended this year’s conference — the first Pierson has participated in. And they spoke about it before the school board last week.

“I want to be an upstander,” said Peters, a seventh-grader.

An “upstander,” she clarified, is a student who makes an effort to step in when someone else is being bullied. She said she didn’t want to “just watch kids get bullied, but do something about it.” Her classmates nodded in agreement and declared they too would set out to be upstanders.

Middle School Assistant Principal Barbara Bekermus said she wanted student council members to attend the conference as part of their training in student leadership.

“I felt like student council should really be the leaders and the role models for the school,” she explained.

And until this point, she continued, Pierson’s student council hadn’t been a very large fixture on campus.

“Even though we had leaders in name, they didn’t really fill that role,” she said.

According to teacher Eileen Caulfield — the advisor for the middle school student government and student chaperoned at the workshop — the conference had a positive impact on the students. And perhaps the aspect that made the most impact was the fact they were able to listen to stories told by other students. In addition to describing tales of bullying, four teenage speakers told personal stories that touched on issues like depression, homosexuality and the suicide of a loved one.

“That was hard for them, to listen to these kids who went through these experiences but were able to get to the other side — better,” Caulfield said.

But she said it inspired the group to think of the culture at Pierson Middle School differently.

“When our kids mixed with the other 200 [students], they had to come up with ways for how they could go back to our school and try to prevent this from happening,” said Caulfield.

The students now meet regularly on Fridays with Caulfield during their academic support period and — since October’s conference — they have discussed anti-bullying and tolerance-based measures that can be put in place at Pierson.

The middle school will soon have a “bully box,” where students will be able to place anonymous reports about inappropriate behavior they might witness on campus. Bekermus said one student even organized a “P.S. I Love You” day amongst her friends. The idea was inspired by a speaker at the conference who created the event at her school in memory of her father, who committed suicide.

Bekermus continued to say that the biggest takeaway from the conference is in encouraging bystanders to be “upstanders.”

“Ninety percent of the power lies in the people who are watching it happen,” she noted.

Her hope is that those who attended the conference, those already in positions of student leadership, will take this message to heart.

Try To Teach Tolerance

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By Claire Walla

For one mother in the Sag Harbor School District, her son’s taunting started back in third grade. He was aware of his sexuality early on, she said, and was regularly made fun of for being different. (For privacy’s sake, she has asked not to be named.)

Her son — who’s now at Pierson—doesn’t talk about being bullied much anymore, which led her to believe he was finally being left alone.

“I said, ‘You’re so popular and you seem so happy,’” she recalled telling him at the end of last year. But that wasn’t the case. “He told me, ‘They bully me every day now. I just let it roll off of me.’”

While she said her son now has the tools to deal with the name-calling and he doesn’t blame anyone for not stepping in to defend him, the fact that kids are still using the word “gay” is a problem.

In her son’s experience, she said the taunting has varied from students flippantly using the word “gay” in a derogatory way mid-conversation, to more “vicious,” targeted remarks. One of the difficulties in addressing the issue, she continued, is that there aren’t many students who are out, which means the school district has not had to confront many issues of homosexuality.

“Maybe students are just comfortable and accepted,” she offered. “But, we [she and her husband] feel the need for some action to be taken.”

The mother is spearheading two efforts to address the bullying of what she termed “gender non-conforming” students within the Sag Harbor School District. At the elementary school, where she said kids might not be aware that using the term “gay” can be offensive, she has purchased an educational video for teachers called “It’s Elementary.” The video gives teachers practical tools to address any anti-gay prejudice they may encounter. So far, she said a couple of teachers have expressed interest in seeing the video and have also lent their support in trying to show it to the rest of the faculty.

“If kids knew that that word was hurtful, my hope is that they wouldn’t use it,” the mother explained.

At the high school, where kids are more apt to have already discovered their sexuality, she hopes the district will implement a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). The club will need at least 10 members before it can officially be formed.

In the past, School Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said the school has never specifically addressed bullying based on sexual orientation.

“I’m not sure there’s been a need to, because we try to treat all kids with dignity,” he explained in an interview. “Is that any different than a girl who’s overweight? Or a boy who’s skinnier than his peers?”

What’s more, Dr. Gratto said he has not observed more students being bullied for being gay than for any other issue.

Similarly, Debbie Skinner, Director of the Youth Advocacy and Resource Development (YARD) Program, added she hasn’t noticed much bullying at all after school.

“I see a lot of little dramas,” Skinner explained. “But I just try to nip it in the bud and diffuse the situation immediately.”

Pierson Middle School Assistant Principal Barbara Bekermus said she is constantly reevaluating the school’s efforts to prevent bullying, and implementing new ways of addressing these issues when they arise.

In fact, this year she said she hopes to run anti-bullying workshops during students’ academic support sessions at the end of the school day. In this setting, students will have the opportunity to talk in smaller groups, which she hopes will encourage them to open-up more easily. She has already worked with some teachers and administrators on workshops to address specific topics, including racism and body type.

“I haven’t done a workshop just on the word ‘gay,’” she continued. But Bekermus said she understands parents’ desires to shed light on the issue. “Personally, I think it’s an important thing to address.”

However, she added that homosexuality and bullying have never fully been discussed under the same umbrella within the district because it’s never really been brought up before. She speculated this might be because the topic is sensitive for some parents.

“With homosexuality, it crosses into religion,” she explained, which makes things tricky. “Bullying someone for being fat or skinny is not about religion.”

School Board President Mary Anne Miller recognizes that there are some families in the school district who may be homophobic. But overall, she said families in the Sag Harbor School District are lucky to be living in a relatively liberal area where there are students in the school district who do have gay parents, and it’s accepted.

“Our district has a lot of gay families and bi-racial families, and because we’re so small, more of us get to experience that more often,” Miller said. “But, do we need to educate kids more, and create more awareness [of these issues]?” she asked rhetorically, stepping back to look at the bigger picture. “Obviously we do, because look at our society. We’re still not doing a good job of creating that acceptance.”

The mother echoed Miller’s remarks, explaining how difficult it can be to address these issues as a parent.

“So many people think that when you support your gender non-conforming child that you’re trying to make them gay,” she said. “People have such misconstrued ideas. It’s just about support. And that’s what the GSA is all about.”

After a meeting with Dr. Gratto last week, the mother said the district seems to back her effort to bring a GSA club to the school. She doesn’t expect it to happen overnight, but she’s happy to know the school is willing to open the door for her son.

“He thinks he’s the only one at the school that’s like him,” she said. She knows there are more students at Pierson who are gay, but some aren’t open with their sexuality.

“A lot of kids wait until college to come out, which is fine,” she said. “But we want our son to be able to be who he is now.”