• Bryn Schlussler: 2018 Friedlander Upstander Award Essay

    Bryn Schlussler (3rd from right), was a student at Bay Shore High School at the time of receiving Honorable Mention for the Friedlander Upstander Award at HMTC’s 2018 Tolerance Benefit.  Her essay bellow demonstrates that he has acted as an Upstander against bullying and intolerance.

    School is supposed to be a place to learn.  School is supposed to be a place to make friends.  We are told to raise our hands to ask a question.  We are told to raise them isf we have an answer.  We are told that there is no shame in answering a question incorrectly, and that our classmates will not make fun of us if we are wrong.

    Somewhere, somehow we went wrong.  Rumors and insults linger in the halls.  The price tag on our clothes means more than the person wearing them.  We exclude others who are different from us, creating our own social hierarchy in four walls that are supposed to prevent them.  At the very top, the people who everyone wants to be friends with- the “cool” people.  On the bottom, the “rejects”.  People stray away from them because they’re “different” and “weird.”

    Prior to the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, Adam Lanza was described as, “deeply troubled,” by his peers.  Dylan Klebold before the Columbine High School massacre grew a deep hatred for school.  No one questioned it.  No other students tried to help the cause.  People found them weird, and different far before they were labeled as felons, much like most school shooters.  According to CNN, on average there has been a school shooting a week so far in 2018.  We bicker back and forth about gun control, thinking that is the issue.  We think we are making the problem better by talking about it, but in reality, we are not doing anything.  We treat the problem like it is unresolvable.

    But it is not.  While we do not have authority over the issue of gun control, we do have the authority of our own actions.  It is time to start treating others the way we wish to be treated.

    Growing up in a large district, I was exposed to a wide array of people in terms of ethnicity, intelligence, and personality.  There have always been a few students that stray away from the others.  As I progressed to high school I have become more aware of the special education students and how secluded they were from the rest of the students their age.  The general education student population would make fun of these students, whether it was by mimicking them to their face, or by using the work “retarded” behind their back.  This gave me the ammunition to break down the wall between students with and without special needs.

    For two years, I assisted in an adaptive physical education class.  Being the only student in the room without intellectual or developmental disabilities at first was daunting because now I was different from anyone else- but that quickly changed.  Within the gym class, I grew incredibly close to all the students in it.  Forty minutes a day I was able to do more than just be a peer of theirs- I ended up being a vital ingredient in helping them increase their social skills.  They ended up becoming acquainted with my friends and as they passed by friends in the hallway, everyone would be excited to simply say, “hi.”  As opposed to people turning heads and ignoring these special education students, people began acknowledging them, setting off a chain reaction.

    Simultaneously, I helped establish the inaugural Bay Shore chapter of Best Buddies International , which  is a program dedicated for forming authentic friendships between students with and without intellectual and development disabilities.  In the beginning, we were expecting about five general education students, but were incredibly enthusiastic when we were able to recruit over 60 members through publicizing Best Buddies in several different fashions.

    Best Buddies has brought the feeling of friendship and companionship on behalf of both general education students and special education students, while being in their gym class allowed me to break down preexisting walls for these students.  With a little more acceptance from everyone, we can slowly start to see change.

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