The award-winning BIONIC (Believe It Or Not I Care) Program has been operating in the Finley Middle School for 13 years. Its mission is to promote self-esteem among middle school students, provide a basis for standing up to negative peer pressure, avoiding risky behavior, including substance abuse, and providing opportunities for students to make a difference in their own community. The school social worker and a committee of parents oversee the program.
The yearlong program includes two self-awareness days, BIONIC week, a Holiday Adopt-A-Family program, fundraising for the Make A Wish Foundation, and a community awareness night for parents and community members. During the self-awareness days, approximately 10 speakers from outside agencies and guidance counselors meet with 40 classes to conduct discussions and presentations on topics relating to self-esteem. Planned Parenthood provides speakers, as do the Melillo Center for Mental Health, Glen Cove Citizens Committee Against Substance Abuse, Daytop Rehabilitation Center, and others. The content of these presentations is clearly defined to provide students with a thought-provoking experience, to resist negative peer pressure, to avoid drugs, alcohol, cheating, bullying and other risk-taking behaviors. No brochures or literature are distributed by any agency to the students. None of these agencies are paid. BIONIC Committee parents sit in on the classes and review and evaluate the presentations.
Our students are part of a wide community. The BIONIC Committee takes advantage of the tremendous resources available in that community, to enrich the knowledge and experience of our students. The God Squad, Monsignor Hartman and Rabbi Gellman, spoke with students about self-respect and respect for others in April 2000. Delivery of a message from any community sources can be an additional reinforcement to the school and family message. The BIONIC Committee takes its responsibility to students seriously.
As a citizen and as a parent, I personally have concerns about the implications of banning Planned Parenthood from the school district. The ban is clearly not for the content of their presentations to students, but solely for their presence in the school. It is a precedent that sends a damaging message that we can exclude, for religious reasons, a licensed social services agency that has contributed to an important mission in our school district; that we can open the door to limiting the opportunities for our students to glean information from other community members about careers or achievement or self-esteem, not because of what those community members have to say, but because on some religious level their point of view may differ from ours. If we want our children to learn tolerance in a diverse world, we are responsible to set an example for them. Banning certain community members appears to me to be setting the wrong example.