Jessica Rengifo and Jimmie Jones were chosen as Soehl Middle School’s first two “Upstanders of the Week” as part of an anti-bullying program run in conjunction with the New York Jets and STOMP Out Bullying. The students are pictured with Elizabeth James, the program coordinator at Soehl.


By Gary Miller

In every case of bullying, there is a bully and a victim. But there is also usually a bystander.

A new program at Soehl Middle School, in conjunction with the New York Jets and STOMP Out Bullying, wants to turn the bystander into an “Upstander.”

“We want the bystander not to just stand on the side, but speak up,” said Elizabeth James, who works in crisis intervention at Soehl. “Don’t get yourself in trouble, but say, ‘Hey, that’s not cool.’

“Most of the time people laugh because they’re uncomfortable. They’re glad somebody’s not picking on them. But it only takes that one person to say, ‘That’s not cool.’ A lot of kids do stick up for each other, and we need to start highlighting those kids.”

The Jets Upstander of the Week program recognizes and rewards these students. Throughout the football season, one student will be chosen each week to receive three tickets to a Jets home game, a T-shirt and a bumper sticker.

Soehl’s first two Upstanders of the Week are eighth-grader Jessica Rengifo and seventh-grader Jimmie Jones.

James had praise for both.

“Ever since she’s been here, she always volunteers, she’s always speaking up,” she said of Jessica. “When we had jersey day, I remember her saying, ‘I’m a Jets fan, but I don’t mind taking pictures with everybody else’s team.’ She didn’t know I was doing this program; that’s just who she is.”

And Jimmie summed up the theme of the program: “I love that he said, from the kids’ perspective, ‘Bullying’s just not nice,’” James said of Jimmie. “From the mouths of babes. How much simpler can you get and be true? And he said he wants to be the change he wants to see in the world. That’s just him.”

Only 16 students will be able to win the Jets tickets as Upstanders, but James want to keep the spirit of the program going throughout the school year, possibly with other ticket giveaways or prizes. Students will be asked to write essays on bullying, and parents will be invited in for food and informal dialogues – called “chew-and-chats” — about bullying and cyberbullying.

It’s all part of a larger effort to combat bullying every day.

“It’s about loving the kids,” James said. “If they can find someone who believes in them when they don’t believe in themselves, they’ll remember that.”