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Students performing skits on stage

Upstander training included skits to show how students can prevent cyberbullying.

Columbia is taking a new approach to keeping students safe from cyberbullying, a growing issue that extends beyond the school’s walls and one that can have tragic consequences.

The solution? Students themselves.

On Wednesday morning, two dozen Columbia students were trained to be Upstanders, the opposite of a bystander, by Siena College students in a new peer-to-peer program. By watching powerful videos and testimonials, looking at data and performing skits, the Columbia students learned more about the dangers of cyberbullying and how they can help prevent it.

“It gave us leadership skills,” said Columbia senior Marissa Hochberg. “It gives you the feeling that it’s not OK to stay silent.”

The Upstander Program, created by AT&T, the Tyler Clementi Foundation and Siena College, uses college students to establish a dialogue on cyberbullying based on their proximity in age, familiarity with the high school experience and understanding of ubiquitous use of digital communications. The Siena College students have been trained to be ambassador facilitators because they either have experience with cyberbullying or have a skillset to help address the issue by training high school students to be leaders within their schools.

The program is a product of a Siena Research Institute poll that revealed 1 in 5 Capital Region teens have been the victim of cyberbullying. In a school the size of Columbia, that could mean approximately 250 of those kids have been cyberbullied.

Nicole Presti speaks on stage

Nicole Presti speaking about cyberbullying at Upstander training.

“This is important because people might not realize how they’re hurting others,” said Columbia sophomore Nicole Presti, who took part in the Upstander training.

After the training session in the morning, the new Columbia Upstanders and the Siena ambassadors gave two presentations to the rest of the student body in the auditorium.

The goal is to establish a shift of culture that discourages cyberbullying and supports those who are cyberbullied.

“By better understanding the extent of the issue, AT&T, Siena College and the Tyler Clementi Foundation has made addressing the rise of cyberbullying a priority and are committed to providing education and resources to help teens make better online choices and become Upstanders,” said Benjamin Roberts, director of Public Affairs at AT&T. “I applaud the Columbia High School students that trained to be Upstander Ambassadors, their commitment and compassion was not just inspirational, but they are true leaders who care about their fellow students and are dedicated to ending cyberbullying in their community.”

The Upstander Program was piloted at Columbia before it will be launched statewide in the fall.

“This program was important because cyberbullying has become a rampant issue in schools and society,” said Columbia School Social Worker Audra Di Bacco. “It’s important for kids to know how they can appropriately deal with the situations that arise and who they can turn to with concerns.”

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