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Bullied as a Child, He Pushes Back at Hommocks

In his dreams, he’s walking and running. In reality, it’s one wheel at a time.

Trevor McKay described his dreams, his reality and how “we’re all the same, we’re all different” in front of some 400 sixth graders at an anti-bullying assembly at the Hommocks Middle School on January 8.

Trevor McKay began the packed assembly at Hommocks by performing a piano piece he had learned to play in the Commons when he was a student at the middle school 17 years ago. It was only when he re-positioned himself from the piano to his wheelchair and the microphone that the 6th graders could see how getting himself up and onto his feet was not so simple.

Former Hommocks student Trevor McKay and Hommocks Assistant Principal Dr. Nora Mazzone discuss anti-bullying strategies at an assembly for sixth graders.

“I have no feeling from the knees down,” explained Mr. McKay, who has suffered from spina bifida since birth. Though he’s wheelchair bound now, he used crutches and braces to make his way through elementary school,  switching to a wheelchair full-time when he entered the Hommocks. “I can move my legs, but cannot move my feet or wriggle my toes.”

Sitting at the piano, his disability seemed temporarily at bay. But now, as he spoke, it was easier for the students to imagine what it would mean to be in a wheelchair and how he might have experienced bullying when he was growing up.

Anti-bullying was the theme of the assembly, and Mr. McKay had particular insights to impart.

Had he been bullied in middle school, asked Hommocks Assistant Principal Dr. Nora Mazzone, moderator for the discussion. “Of course,” he said, reflecting how one particular bully had tormented him beginning in fifth grade at Chatsworth Elementary School.

“He would say all kinds of mean things to me about being in a wheelchair, as well as other things,” recalled Mr. McKay. “When we made it to the Hommocks, I finally had enough. I was so frustrated and angry that I lashed out and said something completely inappropriate and mean to him. He ended up telling the principal, who called me down. In the end, we were both suspended.

“Fifteen years later he showed up at my doorstep to apologize,” continued Mr. McKay. “He said he had been thinking about how he treated me for many years and just wanted to say he was sorry. My brothers and I invited him to come in our home and stay for a while. He said no thanks and walked away. I haven’t seen him since.”

In telling this story, both Mr. McKay and Dr. Mazzone came to the conclusion (one that is often discussed in smaller conversations with students at the Hommocks) that bullies really don’t feel good about themselves inside. “The truth is that I think this boy felt so badly about himself that he wanted to make me feel that way as well,” Mr. McKay said.

We’re All The Same – We’re All Different

According to Dr. Mazzone, Mr. McKay was invited to the assembly to help convey the message that “We’re all the same – and we’re all different.” The assembly was a new addition to the Hommocks’ Project ABLE (Anti-Bullying Leadership Experience) program, which includes a variety of initiatives pairing eighth grade peer leaders with sixth graders to openly discuss issues and solutions around bullying.

Later, Mr. McKay visited many of the sixth grade classrooms, where the peer leaders were guiding conversations about students’ impressions of the assembly. Students discussed their definitions of bullying and whether they had experienced it themselves.

The peer leaders had been trained as facilitators in a four-hour workshop held by Hommocks Principal Dr. Seth Weitzman, Dr. Mazzone and Assistant Principal Edgar McIntosh. The eighth graders are now visiting sixth grade classrooms once a month. The training involved sessions on disabilities led by Dr. Mazzone (prior to Mr. McKay’s visit), conflict resolution skills led by Mr. McIntosh and bullying awareness and prevention led by Dr. Weitzman. Classroom sessions will alternate around these three topics for the year.

“It’s very effective because the sixth graders really look up to the eighth graders,” Dr. Weitzman said. “Bullying sometimes is considered a normal component of adolescence, but at Hommocks we make sure to establish a culture in which students know that it’s not tolerated in any way.”

Mr. McKay said he was painfully aware of his disability growing up: he had to learn how to get himself up off the floor if he fell down when no one was there to help; he was constantly visiting doctors, and they routinely had to wrap his whole body in plaster to create a mold for his brace, which needed to be replaced every time he grew the slightest bit.

Nevertheless, Mr. McKay felt he was the same as everyone else. He enjoyed skateboarding, baseball and skiing, among other things, and hanging out with the boys after school on the playground. The Hommocks students laughed when he said he didn’t worry about coming to school in his wheelchair, but rather because he felt his nose was too large for his face.

Hommocks sixth grader Alex Corbin said the assembly had a huge impact on her. She believes students benefited from realizing it’s OK to be different and that “nobody should make fun of you because of your differences.”

She added, “It was so great that he took the time to come to our school to tell us his story. It probably wasn’t easy for him. I took it very deep. It was interesting to hear what it would be like to come from where he came from. It made my friends and me feel thankful.”

Being in a wheelchair has become so natural for Mr. McKay that he sometimes forgets he’s in one until he’s wheeling around Larchmont and sees his reflection in a store window. It’s only then that his “double” comes alive.

“Because of my disability, I’m very visible,” Mr. McKay says. “So I’ve used that since I was very little to shine lights on things I believe in.”

Mr. McKay has been active in the community and has spoken in front of large groups since he was very young. At 20, he was the youngest person ever to be appointed to the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Human Rights Commission. He worked in the call room as a volunteer for the Larchmont Fire Department, has played piano at St. Augustine’s Church for more than a decade and performs throughout Larchmont.

“Music is how I express myself. I turn to it when I’m sad, angry, happy or scared.” Mr. McKay said.

No matter what he does, Mr. McKay does it with gusto.

Following the assembly, he joined classroom discussions, stayed for lunch in the cafeteria and was bombarded with questions from students wanting to talk with him in the Commons.

“My favorite questions usually are those that don’t have anything to do with my disability, ” he said. “Such as what’s your favorite TV show?, because then I know they’ve got it. They understand that in many ways we’re really not so different. It’s beautiful to see that they’ve moved on and aren’t just viewing me as the guy in the wheelchair,” he added.

“This time, after they asked me what the worst part of being in a wheelchair was, they asked me what I liked best about it. I told them, ’I always have a seat’. They got a kick out of that.”

Debbie Manetta is public information officer for the Mamaroneck School District.

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5 comments to Bullied as a Child, He Pushes Back at Hommocks

  • Dear Ms. Manetta, I read with much interest the story of Hommock Middle School and the anti-bullying assembly for the sixth grade class. By way of introduction, I am a board member of Operation Respect, a NYC based foundation whose full time mission is to work with schools and other organizations with curriculum, videos, and music CDs to address bullying, ridicule, dissing, and other disturbing behaviors that are having such a detrimental effect on learning. Peter Yarrow of the folk group Peter Paul and Mary created Operation Respect (OR) and its acclaimed anti-bullying program, “Don’t Laugh at Me” in 1990 and thanks to the support of McGraw Hill and others, we are able to provide both teacher and student guides, videos, and CDs free of cost to the requestor. OR’s important mission is to help education address this terrible problem. Any teacher or administrator can go to the web site, operationrespect.org, and request the support materials. We have distributed copies of the “Don’t Laugh at Me” anti-bullying program to over 22,000 schools in the U.S. and 7 countries. Would you be so kind as to forward this information to others in the district and specifically Hommack Middle School. Thank you. You can contact staff at OR directly or I can be reached at my e-mail above or at (503) 750-3491 for additional information.

  • Observer

    Congratulations to Trevor for his accomplishments and sharing with our students how it felt to be bullied.

    My son had been bullied at Hommocks as well. One day while going to Nicky’s, this bully saw my child and shoved him. I saw it. I became enraged. I walked over to the child and said “apologize to my son for shoving him.” I smacked my fist on the table leaving a large bang..and demanded an apology in front of his friends.

    “Bully…If you don’t apologize I will charge you with assault and call the cops.”

    He didn’t apologize. I picked up the phone and called the Village Police. I whispered to them that this bully was here at Nicky’s and could you come and scare him into an apology.

    Sirens and lights blazing, the Village Police with four officers showed up. The Youth Officer called the Bully outside and told him that they would be bringing him into Family Court AGAIN, and that his mother wouldn’t be very happy. They told him to leave my son alone, and that they would let him off the hook this time if he “shook hands on that agreement.” He agreed and this BULLY never bothered my son again.

    • Do the right thing

      This was NOT the right way to handle it. If you think you did the right thing lady, just because you got the cops to scare the bejesus out of this kid, you are wrong.

      What’s going on at Hommocks today, w/ such programs as the one that Mr. McKay is spearheading, are FAR MORE productive and successful over the longhaul than what you did. This kid maybe left your child alone, but undoubtedly, he’s taken his anger out on another kid somewhere else, even worse, in retribution for what you did to him.

      You may think you were protecting your son, and perhaps the taunting stopped for him, but what you did in essence was the same thing that kid did to your son – you picked on and ganged up on someone smaller and weaker and younger than you.

      I think it’s totally wrong when parents get involved and create scenes including threats against other kids who are picking on their peers. That is just perpetuating the same behavior manifested by another individual – you – and this time bringing in the “big guns” literally and figuratively to protect you and your son.

      I also think it’s a total waste and drain on tax payer dollars to manipulate and abuse the local police force the way you did. I have no doubt you threatened to sue the cops if they didn’t show up at Nicky’s pizza.

      Why couldn’t you have taken a mature and even applied some child psychology to your approach? What about buying some pizza for all the kids to sit around and talk about why they don’t like your child or why they felt the need to pick on him? Talking to that kid would have done him more good than what your tactics. For you have done nothing but made him more angry and fearful and nothing has been learned by that incident.

      You evidently don’t have much insight as a mother.

  • Observer

    Are you a bully?? Your suggestion of “buying the bully and his friend’s pizza” is ludicrous.

    I stated a fact…which was “apologize to my son” or “I will press charges against you for assault?” This “bully” had a long history in the court system which I hadn’t known. But he was torturing my child in and out of school.

    Sounds like “you are trying to use bully tactics” to erroneously suggest that I threatened to sue the police, draining tax payer dollars when a person calls the cops, etc. You statement “parents create scenes including threats against other kids who are picking on their peers” when they become involved us ridiculous.

    You may not agree with how I handled it, but “job accomplished.” My child was no longer bullied or assaulted by this kid again.

    • DR

      I agree with you 100%.

      The idea that you see someone pushing your son around and then give the bully free pizza is nonsense.

      Some people in this world respect only one thing: force. They think they can stomp around and push everyone else around and can only be stopped and intimidated by a stronger and more threatening force. That’s simply the way the world works.

      Not everyone in the world is a delicate, reflective individual in touch with their feelings who can be brought to see the light through some new age encounter session.

      As for the idea that calling the police just made the bully “fearful”…good. That’s what bullies need to be made to feel: fear. Fear that if they continue to assault other people that they will wind up in the criminal justice system, possibly behind bars with true violent criminals.

      The goal here is not to make the bully “feel good about himself”. The goal is to deter him from assaulting other human beings.

      Personally, if I was a child being assaulted by a larger child and saw my parent act in a weak and conciliatory manner, rewarding my assaulter with free food, I would think of that parent as someone who lacked the ability to protect me and I would lose all respect for that parent, probably for the rest of my life.

      So, Observer, I think you did do the right thing.