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February 7, 2013

 

Students warn of bullying

Cortland junior high students hear about its impacts

StudentsBob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland students junior Jaimie DiPalma, left, and senior Natalie Block-Levin speak about bullying and dealing with depression to seventh- and eighth-graders at Cortland Junior High School Wednesday afternoon. Both women lost their fathers to suicide.

By SCOTT CONROE
Staff Reporter’
sconroe@cortlandstandardnews.net

Jaimie DiPalma brought a message Wednesday to about 500 Cortland students in grades six through eight: do not feel alone, do not let depression get you, help someone who needs it.
The SUNY Cortland junior prepared the students for Friday’s P.S. I Love You Day at Cortland Junior-Senior High School by talking about her father’s suicide and the crusade started by her younger sister Brooke.
DiPalma was joined in the school auditorium by her Alpha Phi sorority sister Natalie Block-Levin, who also lost her father to suicide.
They discussed the rise in bullying among young people, especially cyber-bullying, and the tendency of many people to fight depression alone when they should reach out for help.
“I want you guys to go home and tell your families you love them, because you never know what will happen,” DiPalma said.
Students in grades seven through 12 have been asked to wear purple to school Friday, to show support for each other. Thirty schools will celebrate the day this year.
P.S. I Love You Day was begun by Brooke DiPalma when she was in ninth grade, in February 2011, after her father, Joseph, took his own life in April 2010.
A retired New York City police officer, he had a new job and had been bullied anonymously at the job, choosing to keep his pain to himself. The family had no idea.
That day, Joseph drove Brooke to her middle school, said he loved her, and heard her say she loved him. He wad found dead later that day. Jaimie DiPalma was a senior at West Islip High School.
Brooke DiPalma created a video that she posted on YouTube, telling people to remember they are loved and to tell others they are loved.
The events this week are being sponsored by the Junior High Senate. The idea came from the Senate’s vice president, eighth-grader Kristin Bush, who said she was bullied last year — both in person and online — and reached out to Brooke DiPalma, after hearing her story and meeting her through a support group Bush’s mother, Bridgette, runs in the Cortland area.
Brooke DiPalma, now a high school junior, could not come up from Long Island for this week’s events at the junior high. Jaimie DiPalma, an inclusive and special education major at the college, agreed to meet with students instead.
She urged them to support fellow students instead of tearing down their self-worth, and to try to understand other people’s stories.
Block-Levin joined her because her life had been damaged as well by her own father’s suicide.
“Our family has good days and bad days, but we are happy and strong,” Block-Levin said. “If my father had gotten help instead of trying to be tough, he too would be happy and strong today.”
Block-Levin said she sought help from a psychiatrist last year and is glad she did.
Kristin Bush said she thought the P.S. I Love You Day and Wednesday’s program would help her fellow students.
“It could help everyone here, help people’s lives,” she said. “I wanted people not to feel the way I felt.”

 

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