EASTCHESTER, N.Y. -- There is an Eastchester resident who lives by the motto "if you want more joy, you have to give more joy." This resident, Valentina Connell, just happens to be 13 years old, and is an eighth grader at Eastchester Middle School.
Connell just won a prize for writing an essay on how her classmates and her school district should deal with bullying. The prize is a burger per week for the next year, courtesy of AJ's Burgers in New Rochelle.
"My dad brought me there and they have the best burgers ever," Connell said.
In fact, Connell liked the burgers so much, she decided to give them away, and has asked AJs to donate her prize to the Hope Soup Kitchen in New Rochelle.
"She (Valentina) has a lot of heart, and a lot of promise," said Alan J. Cohen, owner of AJs, a fixture on North Avenue for the last four years. "We are still working out the details with the soup kitchen on how to donate the prize to them."
Connell won a competition where all eighth graders had to write an essay on what they would do to spread the message of promoting kindness and respect among fellow students.
Eastchester Middle School Assistant Principal Scott Wynne said that a committee made up of guidance counselors, teachers and he and principal Dr. Walter Moran read the essays, and that many were thoughtful and well written.
"What made Valentina's essay stand out was that she came up with a plan with wonderful ideas that we are looking into doing here at Eastchester Middle School," Wynne said.
Connell's plan is for the school to hold an anti-bullying day complete with student-made posters around the school and everyone wearing teal, the anti-bullying color. Students would be able to watch videos and participate in workshops on how to deal with bullying and classes on alternatives to bullying, such as sports or dance.
"The fun period will show students new ways to have fun instead of being a bully," Connell wrote.
Connell said there are still incidents of bullying at Eastchester Middle School, but she said her advice on dealing with it is to step up to a bully.
"I think you have to say to the person who is doing the bullying, that it is just not cool," Connell said. "At the same time, doing that lets the victim know they are not alone that someone is there for them, someone has their back."
Connell added that often, people who are being bullied are ashamed, but said they should not be.
"Kids should know it is not their fault, and they should know that no one has the right to bully them," Connell said.
Wynne said there is a district policy for dealing with kids who bully.
"We take bullying very seriously," Wynne said. "There is no more attitude that kids will be kids."
Wynne said that the school offers counseling to the kids who are bullies as well.
"Many of the students who are bullies have self esteem issues, and issues of how to find the balance in their own lives," Wynne said. "We work with them to find a positive outlet that helps them realize that bullying is not good for anyone, the bully or the victim."
Wynne did not say if Connell's idea of an anti-bullying day will ever come to pass at Eastchester Middle School, but he did say that kids in sixth and seventh grade have already started to learn about bullying and strategies on how to deal with it.
For Connell it all boils down to a simple idea if you see someone being bullied, say something.
"If we all step up for someone else, the bully becomes weak, and we all become strong," she said.
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