As part of his 3rd annual Anti-Bullying Campaign, Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams visited 39 area schools “to discuss conflict resolution, encourage students to be advocates of change and, most importantly, to stay in school,” according to a release. He calls them Champions of Change, the boys and girls across the city who are upstanding citizens in their school buildings, standing up for themselves and others and exuding a commitment to education worthy of admiration from their peers.
“It’s so important. Teaching each other to be respectful towards each other, it’s our number one rule,” Lisa Kaplan, principal of Andrew Jackson School, 1213 S. 12th St., said. “Maybe something you’re doing and you don’t think it’s bullying, but it is. [DA Williams’ visit to Jackson] was a lot of dialogue with the children raising an awareness of something maybe they think is playing around, but excluding a child can hurt. Making fun of a child’s appearance or religion is something that we want to be conscious of and kinder – I’m proud of my kids.”
Dibani Ronzon, Antonio Luna, Josh Smullins, Evelyn Papalottizi, Brandon Chaingam and Maria Moreno earned Champions of Change status and were honored at the DA’s office Tuesday, just across the street from City Hall. Students from Southwark, 1835 S. Ninth St., Francis Scott Key, 2230 S. Eighth St., and G. W. Childs, 1599 Wharton St., schools were among the 65 students honored, as well.
“Why is the DA inviting all these kids in? Shouldn’t he be out locking people up?” Williams, the son of a lifelong educator in schools, rec centers and daycares, mused. “A long time ago, Frederick Douglass said it’s far easier to build small children than it is to repair broken men,” he added, and credited Dr. William Hite, superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, and the many staffs at schools across the city, for “doing the harder work of building small children.”
DA Dollars was a system the district attorney established to reward positive behaviors and dolled out faux dollars to teachers and administrators to distribute when they witness good behaviors.
“What we say to all of you is that it’s far more effective to reward good behavior than it is to punish bad behavior. That’s why we came up with the idea of DA dollars – they went to kids doing the right thing, helping someone in need, doing the honorable thing,” Williams said.
Deputy District Attorney George Mosey opened with a strong statement.
“How many of you know that you’ve been tricked by the DA of Philadeplhia to do the job that the Philadelphia Police Department, the DA’s office and the [Drug Enforcement Administration] could never do? The fact of the matter is, if there’s a war on violence or drugs, I’m looking at the only army that can win the war,” Mosey said. He presented an analogy of respect as your computer’s homescreen, your default. “If respect was our default screen, this city would be a much nicer place to live and your schools would be a better place to learn and all of us would lead more abundant lives if it started with respect.”
Marquan Mimms, an 11-year-old fifth grader from G.W. Childs, said “it’s cool” to be honored and he was “happy to be here. My teacher picked me, Ms. Watt,” said Mimms. “Because I’m good and I made student of the month because I was nice to my friends.” Is he proud to be a Champion of Change? “Yeah, because you might not get nowhere as a bully.” He sat with his mom, Marcia Mimms, with whom he lives at 20th and Fernon streets.
“I’m so very proud of my son. This is a very nice event,” the matriarch said.
When pressed, the fifth grader said he loves football but doesn’t think he wants to play it as an adult – he loves the Eagles and sees a future for himself in graphic design – “I like being on computers,” he said.
Jennifer Pour’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Southwark students were honored on Tuesday and were actually working on anti-bullying initiatives in their classroom when the Champions of Change initiative visited their East Passyunk Crossing building. They studied “the cause and effects of bullying over the school year through the Need in Deed Project Network and they presented a tri-fold board at the annual Shout-Out at the University of the Arts, where they earned the Student Voice Award!” Pour reported. They brainstormed how to combat bullying, entertaining project ideas like making books, videos, plays or t-shirts, but they settled on “anti-bullying boxes” with forms for younger students to report details of bullying incidents.
Third graders Angela Wang, Alondra Gordillo-Cuahurizo, Juan Limon-Ramos and Maria Sanchez, and fourth grader Jackeline Rameriz-Quiroz were named Young Champions of Change.
At Francis Scott Key School, on the edge of Lower Moyamensing, Williams visited with Power 99 DJ Mina SayWhat. Students from that school honored were Aracely Valenzo, Alexandra Hernandez, Brian Salazar, Samrith Loeung, and Lucy Lee.
“You guys are our future,” the morning DJ personality said. “I was always speaking up [when I was your age] and I encourage you in your life to be leaders. When you see someone getting bullied, say something, talk to your teachers, your parents, your principal. Respect each other – your words have power, they can be powerful if you use them towards good, and you can uplift people. Stay in school and continue to be good in school and be leaders even with your friends. You have to pick your friends and surround yourself with people like you. My friends, I admire them, I’m proud of them,” she said. If you have nasty friends, bullies up to no good, “maybe they shouldn’t be your friends.”
Quincy Harris, a FOX 29 personality that Williams took with him to Jackson School, said “dare to believe you that you can make your dreams possible. I was lazer-focused. I would write down my dream every day, I would do things to help my dreams become a reality,” he said.
After watching Arsenio Hall talk to celebrities as a 12-year-old, he was driven.
“The thing that school is doing for you guys is preparing you to learn for the rest of your life – keep learning, keep making yourself better.”
Contact Staff Writer Bill Chenevert at email@example.com or ext. 117.
Staff Photos by Bill Chenevert