THHS participates in bystander intervention workshop

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In late March, the organization Right To Be conducted a virtual bystander training session over zoom to educate Townsend Harris students on the significance of intervention in alleviating situations, ranging from harassment to physical alterations. Students engaged in the broadcasted training virtually in their second band classrooms, and those who had free bands watched in the auditorium. 

This workshop was led by Steve Pokonornoki, a senior trainer at Right To be, formerly known as “Hollaback,” which strives to educate people on ways to “respond to, intervene in, and heal from harassment.” In the session, Mx. Pokonornoki presented 5 distinct ways for youth to intervene in situations: Distract (drawing attention away from the situation),  Delegate (finding someone in a position of authority and asking for help), Document (record evidence of the situation), Delay (checking in with the person being harassed, once the situation’s over), and Direct (directly standing up to the harasser). Each of the words denoted a unique bystander intervention option that is designed to handle specific situations and student preferences. 

In addition, to encourage student engagement, Mx. Pokonornoki invited viewers to participate in  various polls regarding certain harassment situations. Pupils were anonymously able to share their reactions to the example situations, asking how they would intercede, as well as questions about the types of harassment they have either witnessed or experienced. 

Assistant principal of organization, Ellen Fee, who helped organize the event said, “I felt that [the presentation] was a great reminder to the whole school community on how to be a bystander and engage in making the world a better and safer place.”

Many students also shared Ms. Fee’s belief  that the program was important and informative toward addressing harassment. 

Freshman Joy Tang, who was in the auditorium during the presentation said, “This workshop was an important time for us as students to learn about [intervention] more in-depth, and really take into consideration what actions should be done in certain situations. I think Townsend can further educate us by providing more information, based on the responses from the feedback form [that was] sent out.” An email was sent out by Assistant Principal of Guidance Veronica York after the event had concluded, which contained a feedback form that had numerous questions and statements asking students about their opinion on certain aspects of the training. 

However, while some students agreed that this training session offered valuable bystander training, others felt that there is still more room for improvement and better training.

Junior Vinesh Holiprosad said that the workshop “ provided students with extra resources/information on what to do if they see harassment in their lives,” but he also believes that “Townsend can further educate us on ways to intervene in situations like this with similar workshops.” 

Senior Angelina Kretz also said, “I thought it was a good incentive towards handling situations and how to approach more serious topics such as bullying and sexual harassment. Although, I don’t really think it was [extermely] effective since I believe that majority of students knew the information but still appreciate[d] their efforts in trying to promote an interactive and informative setting. I think on zoom it was hard to gauge everyone’s opinions and understanding. Maybe there should be more workshops in person that center on these topics and have panels dedicated to them.”

Freshman Kiara Satian-Gonzalez, said “I think it was overall pretty helpful since I did learn there are so many other ways to help out in a situation. However, I will say that not all of us were paying attention since it was [taught] on zoom and we were all just listening, which isn’t as engaging as it could have been. I feel like there could have been more interactive activities which would have made the training more memorable.”

Regardless, many students felt that they were able to take away a lot from the meeting. Vinesh said, “[s]ome takeaways from this workshop were that I was able to gain a better understanding of how to react when placed in a situation like ones described, and it’s beneficial to [me and] the school community since [due to the recent rise in hate crimes], we’re more likely to be placed into a scenario, like the ones described in the training; so now we know how to defuse [those] situations and keep each other safe.” 

At the conclusion of the training session, Mx. Pokornowski offered a message on the importance of bystander intervention. He said,  “[i]f enough of us start intervening, the more normal it [will become]. The more normal it [becomes], the easier it is. The easier it gets, the [more effective] it is to show how disrespect is not tolerated.”

Photo by Aurelia Liu