Officials at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale are challenging the account of a New Hyde Park Girl Scout who won a Gold Award for an anti-bullying project that recounted a series of personal attacks and anti-Semitic slurs she experienced over three years at the school.
But Faith Fishkin said she has given an honest account of her experience at the private Catholic High School and is proud of what she had accomplished.
“You’re trying to make your community better, that’s what you’re asked to do,” Fishkin said of the Gold Award. “With everything I went through, I made this a healing for me.”
Town of North Hempstead Councilman Angelo Ferrara praised Fishkin’s anti-bullying efforts when he recently presented Fishkin with the Gold Award, the highest achievement for Girls Scouts.
“She developed a project to help other kids who’ve endured what she endured,” Ferrara said.
Fishkin, a member of Girl Scout Troop 1422 in the West Hempstead-Franklin Square Association, won the Gold Award after recounting her experience at Kellenberg during an anti-bullying day she staged at Martin Luther High School in Maspeth, Queens this spring and posted in a 15-minute video a on Web site she created - www.faithsantibullyingproject.com.
“Most of it was because my dad was Jewish. They would call me ‘Jew’ and throw pennies,” said Fishkin, who along with her parents is Catholic. “And they would ask me why Hitler didn’t burn my family.”
Fishkin said the anti-Semitic comments along with attacks about her appearance and personal life drove her to physically hurt herself and, eventually, suicidal thoughts that led her to being admitted to a psychiatric emergency room.
Fishkin, who transferred to Martin Luther High School in her senior year and will attend St. Francis University in the fall, said she and her parents reported the verbal attacks to Marina Trentacoste, dean of students at Kellenberg.
Trentacoste’s response, she said, was to tell the students harassing her “to go f--- themselves.”
Trentacoste acknowledged the advice she gave to Fishkin, saying she has given the same advice to other students who have been bullied at the school.
But she said anti-Semitism was not discussed “as a major issue” in the “many” meetings she had with the student and her parents - and said she’s not sure it ever came up.
“My recollection is it was never addressed as a reason she was having difficulties. It was never a reason she was being bullied, about anti-Semitism,” Trentacoste said.
Father Philip Eichner, president of Kellenberg, said bullying is a “major thing” the school has rules about and Web site harassment is hard to control.
He also said he was unaware of any anti-Semitism among Kellenberg students.
“We have had no race problems whatsoever. When a student isn’t doing well and the parents can’t face it, they find all sorts of different reasons,” Eichner said. “I have never had an experience of a Jewish situation.”
Donna Fishkin, Faith’s mother, said she wasn’t surprised that Trentacoste said she didn’t recall the anti-Semitic bullying.
“We would tell them something or Faith would say something, and they didn’t remember it being said,” she said.
Faith and her mother said the attacks on Faith began in her freshman year at Kellenberg and then escalated in her junior year.
“Out of nowhere they were coming at her from all different directions,” said Donna Fishkin.
“I was very vulnerable. I wasn’t myself,” Faith said in her Web video. “People were writing stuff about my grandpa and how he deserved to die and probably hates me because I’m not a virgin and I smoke. It literally drove me insane.”
When her grandfather died in 2010, she said some students told her she deserved to lose him.
She said she was told, “My family’s worthless. They’re Jews.” Faith said she believed she was identified as Jewish because of her name.
Donna Fishkin said her husband was born Jewish, but later converted to Catholicism.
Faith said that as a result of the bullying she lost 27 pounds, dropping to 99 pounds, and refused to go back to school.
Her mother said she had panic attacks in school and started cutting herself on her arms, examples of which are graphically displayed on Faith’s Web site. Her parents said they got Faith into psychotherapy and her psychiatrist put her on anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication.
In text in the video, Faith said she told she would be “jumped” and that she was “nothing.”
Faith said she also attempted suicide more than once.
At one point, she said she was admitted to a psychiatric emergency room and was under suicide watch.
Faith said that when she returned to school after being hospitalized, a fake Facebook page was launched to harass her. Her schoolmates, she said, posted messages saying she had a sexually transmitted disease and also sent her nasty text messages, some of which appear in her video. She said they also threw food at her, alternately calling her “fat” and “skinny.”
A rumor was also spread at the school that she was pregnant, Faith said.
Faith said Trentacoste then called her into her office and said, “‘Fess up. There’s a little truth to every story.”
Trentacoste said she would not have used those exact words, but said, “It may have happened. She was out so many times.”
Trentacoste said rumors about pregnancy occur among teenage girls when a classmate is out of school for a period of time.
Her parents, both Catholics - her father had converted - were frustrated with the response from the school’s administrators.
“Their thing was, ‘You’ve got be stronger,’ ” her mother said. “They didn’t give her any consideration. Nothing really mattered.”
She said the administrators never took any action against the students harassing her daughter.
Donna Fiskin said her daughter stopped going to classes from October until March of her junior year.
Faith, she said, then failed four courses and was expelled at the end of the school year - despite a letter from Faith’s psychiatrist in March stating she was “academically handicapped” due to depression and anxiety.
“They didn’t want to be bothered. The way to deal with it was to get rid of my daughter,” Donna Fishkin said.
Trentacoste said Faith’s erratic attendance at school was the reason for her academic problems. She said the girl had what she called “breakdowns” in school and would then be sent home.
“Faith thought the whole world was dumping on her,” Trentacoste said.
Faiths’s father, Stuart Fishkin, then enrolled his daughter in Martin Luther High School for her senior year.
That’s when Faith said her life changed for the better and the idea for her Gold Award project took shape.
“I started putting it together when I got to my new school,” Faith said. “I was loved there. It was the best thing in my entire life. It was an entire change.”
Online, she said an “amazing support group, including her parents, brother, sister and grandmother played a crucial in her coping with the effects of the bullying.
“She’s doing fabulous. We’re very proud of her,” her father said.
The anti-bullying project took Faith six months to complete and met the Gold Award requirement for 80 hours of community service.
On her Web site, she posted definitions of bullying covering different forms such as emotional, sexual and racial.
The Web site, which has a movie in which she tells the story of what she went through, also offers advice on what parents should look for, how to get help, and books and Web sites to consult.
Faith also suggests coping mechanisms that she used, including hitting a punching bag, listening to music, taking a warm or cold shower, keeping a diary to record one’s feelings, deep breathing, screaming, or going for a walk.
She said she is still in therapy and on medication, but is feeling much better.
The Gold Award project, she said, also helped to relieve her stress.
“A lot of what I went through tied in to what I wrote,” she said. “It was awesome. It was a very good healing process.”
Her parents said Faith rebounded academically at Martin Luther High School plans to major in special education for primary grades at St. Francis University
“She’s trying to reach out and a lot of kids are reaching out to her,” her mother said. “She said ‘I don’t want to see anybody else go through what I went through’. She took a negative and made it a positive.”
At the conclusion of her video, Faith said, “You have God on your side. And you have me now.”