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Penn State student-athletes take anti-bullying message to Park Forest Middle School

Lionettes Dance Team members Alicia Popescu, left, and Brooke Piccione join the Nittany Lion Mascot in an anti-bullying cheer. Penn State Athletes Take Action (PSATA), an anti-bullying organization, hosted an educational event at Park Forest Middle School.
Lionettes Dance Team members Alicia Popescu, left, and Brooke Piccione join the Nittany Lion Mascot in an anti-bullying cheer. Penn State Athletes Take Action (PSATA), an anti-bullying organization, hosted an educational event at Park Forest Middle School. CDT Photo

Penn State athletes want to score a victory over bullying.

They asked Park Forest Middle School sixth-graders for help Thursday.

The school hosted Penn State Athletes Take Action, an anti-bullying campaign, in an assembly with 23 athletes from seven teams. The athletes shared their bullying stories and talked about the importance of standing up to bullying.

“It’s the first time there were enough athletes and enough interest to bring them to Park Forest,” Assistant Principal Larry Walker said. “When you can have Penn State student-athletes here to talk to kids about something this important it’s going to pay dividends for our kids. They’ll listen to what Penn State’s student-athletes went through, make connections, build a rapport and hopefully that goes far.”

The group will return to PFMS each month through April. This was its first appearance at Park Forest. Mount Nittany Middle School has hosted the program since 2012.

“It’s awesome as a Penn State athlete to be able to come here to be a role model to kids you don’t know,” senior Brooke Piccione, a Lionette, said.

“You know, dance can be so cutthroat, and a lot of negative things were said to me,” she told the students. “I was told I wasn’t skinny enough or good enough, and now I’m on a three-time national champion team, so don’t let negative things hold you back.”

Senior hockey player Max Gardiner said he was targeted for his looks in school.

“When I was in fifth- and sixth-grade, I was very tall and very skinny, and I wasn’t very coordinated,” Gardiner said. “Even my friends would take jabs at me and say I’d never be very good at sports. ... those little things stick with you, and they hurt. I tried to use it to drive myself to become better and to stop bullying.”

Sixth-grader Clare Marsh said that how you treat a person shouldn’t depend on their looks or whether you know them.

Marsh is a member of PFMS’s ROAR Ambassadors — Responsibility, Organization, Attitude, Respect — a group of students who promote a positive school community to end bullying.

“Everyone has different looks and different backgrounds, so you should remember to treat everyone the same, because they don’t have the same home life as you,” Marsh said. “You should respect everyone’s differences and get to know them, because they don’t want to be judged either.”

Penn State Lionette Alicia Popescu said sometimes you can be bullied by the people you know best.

“I am a middle sibling with two sisters,” Popescu said. “My older sister didn’t bully me too much, but when she did I put it back on my younger sister. It became a never-ending cycle, and those are things we want to stop.”

Sixth-grader Sinclair McDaniel, who is also a ROAR Ambassador, said he learned a lesson from Popescu.

“We’ve got to stand up to bullying, because it could mess someone else up and that could make them bullies,” McDaniel said. “That just makes things worse, and I think it’s better to make someone’s day better than to make it worse.”

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