Streams

A 12-Year-Old Hangs Himself, and His Family Says He Was Bullied

Friday, June 01, 2012 - 09:35 AM

Students and parents said on Thursday that Joel Morales, 12, was bullied in his East Harlem neighborhood and at school before he hanged himself on Tuesday in his apartment. One mother, Sadia Hashmi, told The New York Times that she would often walk to school with her son and Joel, who went to school together. She recalled how he was sometimes depressed over how other children treated him, and she asked him why they did that.

“Sometimes he would say he doesn’t know why,” said Ms. Hashmi, who is an occupational therapist at the school, Public School 102. “Sometimes he would say because he was small. They would say really mean things.

And a former classmate, Destynee Lewis, 11, recalled that Joel was bullied for being short.

“The bullies are a group of boys — 12, 9, 10, 11 — all different ages,” she said. “They told him he was ugly, and he’d tell the teacher, and the teacher would tell the parents” of the children who picked on Joel. “But it didn’t help.”

“People really picked on him, both inside and outside the school. I can’t say it, what they said, they were bad words,” Destynee said. “I felt angry and sad, because he was a nice kid and I’d stick up for him. They’d say, mind your business.”

Members of Joel's family said he killed himself because he had been repeatedly picked on. On Thursday, a police spokesman said officers were investigating whether there had been any link between bullying and Joel’s death, which comes on the heels of other suicides of young boys and girls around the country. Many states, including New York, have required schools to put into place antibullying curriculums and take action against students who harass others.

New York City spent almost $100 million last year on outside consultants who train teachers, but there's no real oversight over which providers are worth the money, according to an analysis by Schoolbook and the Hechinger Report.

On-the-job training for teachers, known as professional development, encompasses things like day-long seminars, coaching by in-school specialists and even yoga. But there's little reliable, independent research on what kind of training for teachers actually works.

“We know less than we should about professional development, particularly given the money that is invested in it,” said Pamela Grossman, an education researcher at Stanford University who specializes in teacher training.

That means New York City principals have to figure out which kinds of training make a difference, because the Education Department says it's too difficult to centrally vet the hundreds of different vendors.

The married James Madison High School teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with a male student was arrested Thursday. The teacher, Erin Sayar, who teaches English, is accused of having sex with the boy at least eight times in the past school year, according to a report issued by Richard J. Condon, the special commissioner for investigation for the city’s schools. If convicted, she could face up to four years in prison. On Wednesday, the family of the student filed a $10 million notice of claim against the city.

The Times also reports that a Queens computer teacher who was arrested in February for molesting two students was charged with groping three more students. The new charges against the teacher, Wilbert Cortez, 49, of Public School 174 in Rego Park, state that he inappropriately touched a 6-year-old, an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old, according to the office of the Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown.

Also, SchoolBook has begun publishing a series of posts reporting on the results of a crowd-sourcing project about the rising cost of public school. Tell SchoolBook what else you want to know on this subject.

For a roundup of other education news around the city today, check out Gotham Schools's Rise and Shine column.

Around town today, Harlem Renaissance High School is holding what it calls its biggest EXPO video gallery event. Videos and music produced by students can be seen and heard from 4 to 6 p.m. at the transfer high school at 22 East 128th Street. The community is welcome.

Today at the American Museum of Natural History, the 15th Annual Young Naturalist Awards are being given to children in grades 7 through 12. The winners come from across the country and include Kalia Firester, a ninth grader at Hunter College High School. She determined that filters based on living plants effectively removed household pollutants from waste water.

Students of the Witt Seminar and DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx will host a celebration for their garden from 1 to 3 p.m. today. The event's promoters hope it will help raise awareness and support for gardens, green initiatives and issues of sustainability, food justice and public health in school communities throughout New York City and elsewhere. The garden received a donation of $5,000 from the Walrath Family Foundation that will be used to construct a fence that's expected to be completed today, setting the garden apart from the rest of the school.

Parents and students are invited to the 2012 World Science Festival, which is holding events on Saturday in Brooklyn Bridge Park and MetroTech Plaza, and Sunday in Washington Square Park.

Also on Saturday, the Fourth Annual Emoti-Con! Challenge provides an opportunity for middle- and high-school-aged youth to network with their peers and industry professionals while showcasing their projects and exploring opportunities for their future. The event will take place from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Parsons The New School for Design.

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