Inside a new anti-bullying program at IN-Tech

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Antoine Larosiliere has been bullied. And he’s been the bully.

Yet since he’s become a sixth-grade teacher at IN-Tech Academy, Larosiliere has reflected back quite a bit on his childhood behavior, leading him to become more involved in anti-bullying efforts. In fact, a lot of that came to a head watching his own children deal with schoolyard troubles.

With all that in mind, Larosiliere stepped up to help implement IN-Tech’s new anti-bullying program, something the Tibbett Avenue school made a priority following a report last year by city comptroller Scott Stringer that found 82 percent of students in New York City schools admitted they were aware of peers bullying, harassing or intimidating others in their school. Another 17 percent said they did not have a trusted adult to confide in at school.

Teachers and administrators had certainly noticed those statistics at play at IN-Tech. But as Larosiliere sifted through outside programs, none seemed to meet the needs of his students. So he decided to build his own.

“It’s based on research and experience,” he said. “At the time I was like, ‘I think I know what it takes to create a program.’”

Larosiliere outlined some initial ideas, and then brought in some of his fellow teachers. They thought it looked great — just what the school needed. So, in October, Larosiliere launched a pilot program focused on continuing education throughout the year.

In all her 20 years in education, sixth-grade social studies teacher Lovia Ansah said she has rarely seen comprehensive, effective anti-bullying curriculum implemented. When she heard about Larosiliere’s plan, she was all in.

“It’s helping them to understand each other,” Ansah said. “How to handle a situation, fighting back, and understanding where the other party is coming from.”

The teachers were so inspired they worked on the program themselves day and night, perfecting lessons and events.

“I watched teachers every week giving up their preps and lunches to make this happen,” Larosiliere said. “Students saw all the hard work that the teachers were putting in, and they were excited by it.”

And in developing the curriculum, Larosiliere was sure to include his own experiences with bullying.

“I’m Haitian,” he said. “I came here when I was 6 years old, got bullied, learned how to survive, became a bully myself. Then I taught the kids I bullied how to fight back, and we became friends.”

Larosiliere is able to use that experience to connect with his students, teaching them why someone might be mean or a bully, and how to meet that behavior with understanding and empathy rather than anger.

Ansah uses the program to teach students “cultural capital” — the knowledge they have of other people’s experiences not only of foreign cultures, but even those surrounding them every day. Ansah recalls one time as a student, her teacher discussed baseball in a mathematical word problem.

“I had no idea how to make that real for me, because I had never been to a game before,” she said. “Whereas kids who had, it was understandable to them.”

While the lessons have been well recevied, Larosiliere believes the different events tied into IN-Tech’s program is what really brings it home for students. During a week focused on responsibility, classes discussed the differences between snitching and seeking help. Part of that was bringing in the local police to form relationships with the students.

“Kids don’t trust police officers,” Larosiliere said. “There’s a huge stigma with the whole snitching thing. We wanted to bridge relationships between students and police officers so when they need help, they have someone they can go to.”

That program went even further than bridging the gap, said fellow teacher Jillian Jeter. The students were taught about racism and implicit bias, and how race could impact how they saw police.

“We talked about how some have to be aware of our surroundings, how we conduct ourselves because of implicit bias,” Jeter said. “Historically in the community, little black and brown children don’t have good relationships with the police.”

During a unit on empathy, Larosiliere and the other teachers realized that while IN-Tech shares a campus with a District 75 special education school — P.S. 721 — their classes rarely interacted with those fellow students. So IN-Tech’s teachers collaborated on an event where students would work with them.

And it required some advanced planning, especially since programs had to be developed so the P.S. 721 students weren’t overwhelmed, and where both schools could do something together like button making, painting and even bingo.

“We were all apprehensive about how that was going to turn out,” Ansah said. “We had faith in them, we had high hopes. They had a high level of open-mindedness and empathy. Even the ones that are wildcards, who we weren’t sure how they would turn out, participated with such openness and understanding.”

In the coming year, Larosiliere hopes to keep expanding and refining the curriculum.

Guest speakers are key, he said, in getting the students to really understand the material. He even created a workbook specific to the program over the summer, and he hopes to be able to fund buying them for his students with an online crowdfunding campaign he started.

In the meantime, though, Larosiliere is preparing the program to go bigger.

Each lesson this year will be videotaped, and he wants to start making tutorials for other teachers in other schools. He hopes maybe even a university might use the data to create a research paper and see how it can be implemented on a broader scale.

Until then, Larosiliere hopes the program can expand citywide at least.

“He’s really tapped into an area that deserves time and attention,” Jeter said of Larosiliere. “Kids are our future. Not only is he creative and awesome and dedicated, but he’s really courageous.

“I hope we can see lasting effects of this.”

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