New York Jets center Jonotthan Harrison hands an autographed ball to fifth-grader Calen Brown during a special visit to School No. 5 to encourage students to help end bullying. 

By Gary Miller

School No. 5 students had a big visitor recently. And we mean BIG.

New York Jets center Jonotthan Harrison came to the school on Tuesday, Oct. 2, to encourage fourth- and fifth-graders to help put an end to bullying. Many of the students and staff wore Jets gear or green clothes to welcome their special guest.

The 6-foot-4, 311-pound Harrison talked to students about his own experiences of being bullied as a child. Some found it surprising that someone so big and strong could be bullied, but it was precisely because of Harrison’s size and weight that he was picked on when he was around the same age as those in his audience at School No. 5.

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The special visit was part of the Jets Tackle Bullying program, which partners with Stomp Out Bullying, the nation’s leading anti-bullying organization. Each week, the program selects one student at School No. 5 as the Upstander of the Week, which means instead of being a bystander, they stand up against bullying.

“Congratulations to every here at Linden School No. 5 and all of the Upstanders for being part of the solution and for working to end all forms of bullying,” said Ross Ellis, founder and CEO of Stomp Out Bullying.

School No. 5 Principal Laura Scamardella thanked Ellis and Jets Director of Community Relations Jesse Linder for supporting and encouraging the students. She especially thanked Harrison for his “inspiring story.”

“His words expressed to students that there is always hope and together we can stop bullying,” Scamardella said. “The discussions we had today will be something our students will never forget and will take with them on their journey through life.”

jets player posing with School NO. 5 upstanders

New York Jets center Jonotthan Harrison with School No. 5's Upstanders. From left are Alice Dasilva, Bret Alicea, Ariana Cestona, Calen Brown, and Savonne Johnson.

Fifth-grade teacher Jayme Perezluha coordinates the Upstander program, which rewards students who demonstrate qualities of kindness and compassion and treat everyone they encounter with respect.

“We honor those who do the little things that sometimes may go unrecognized, but mean so much,” Perezluha said. “The goal is to promote positive actions and to help diminish bullying in all aspects.”

The Upstanders chosen so far this school year are fifth-graders Calen Brown, Ariana Cestona, Bret Alicea, Savonne Johnson and Alice Dasilva, who was surprised by her selection during the assembly. Each Upstander receives tickets to a Jets game and a T-shirt.

students raising their hands

School No. 5 fifth-graders raising their hands in hopes of being called on to answer trivia questions. Students who answered correctly won autographed footballs and hats from Jets center Jonotthan Harrison.

Harrison told the children the story of how he moved around to a lot of different schools as a child, but he was a biggest kid wherever he went. In fact, he was so much heavier than other children that he wasn’t allowed to play youth sports, so he turned his attention to music.

“Being as large as I was and playing an instrument, I got picked on and made fun of because I wasn’t an athlete,” he told his captivated audience. “I wasn’t doing what everyone assumed was cool to do. And I got made fun of for that.”

He said older athletes would tackle him on the way to lunch, and everyone else would laugh.

“I tried to laugh it off, but inside, I was hurting,” he said. “To this day, I still think about that experience, because it was miserable. It was a real sad experience.”

Each of the Upstanders from this school year were given an autographed football from Harrison. Other students who were able to answer questions about Harrison and ways to combat bullying at the end of the presentation were also given autographed footballs and hats.

visitors and school 5 staff posing for a photo

From left, School No. 5 fifth-grade teacher Jayme Perezluha, Board of Education member Tracey Birch, Board President Raymond J. Topoleski, Stomp Out Bullying founder and CEO Ross Ellis, School No. 5 Principal Laura Scamardella, and Jets center Jonotthan Harrison.

Harrison offered some tips about how students who witness bullying can be Upstanders.

– Do not laugh or encourage the bully.

– Do your best to help the person being bullied. Help them get somewhere safe or tell an adult.

– Don’t spread hurtful messages on social media.

– Be a friend to the person being bullied.

Harrison also read some impactful statistics about bullying:

– 5.4 million students stay home from school each day across the country to avoid being bullied.

– One out of four teens are bullied.

– Every seven minutes, a student is being bullied somewhere.

He offered encouragement and tips to students who may be getting bullied.

“No one should ever pick on you for what your interests are. No one should pick on you for how you look,” he said. “Just know that if that is the case, you can rise above that. Just know that it’s only for a short time period. This will pass and you will grow from this.”