Imagine that you have a daughter in eighth grade, and she has just started at a new school, maybe her third in the last two years.
She is shy, has trouble expressing herself verbally and finds it difficult to make friends. Also, she dresses so plainly and in baggy clothes that she’s perceived a boy, so someone dares her to prove her gender.
She takes a picture and posts it to a social media platform. The person who issued the challenge then shares it on other sites. Others chime in with their opinion, and someone creates a fake account. Your daughter then feels depressed and skips school for a few days.
That was the scenario presented to the student body of Waverly-Shell Rock Middle School Tuesday morning as part of a partnership between the district and the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center’s Kaleidoscope series. The Working Group Theater from Iowa City performed a play, with interjections by the cast of their own real-life experiences with bullying. Afterwards, the cast members interacted with the students to teach them how to handle themselves in a similar situation.
Amy Hunzelman, education and special programs director with GBPAC, said W-SR is one of eight districts that have helped bring the Kaleidoscope performances directly to schools across the state.
“In this particular case, your teachers and principals felt the themes in today’s performance are relevant for all students in this building rather than just sending one grade to the Gallagher Bluedorn,” Hunzelman said, reading a prepared introduction.
“Themes in today’s performance explore friendship, kindness and making the right decision, even when it’s an unpopular choice. While these aren’t necessarily ‘new’ themes, there is value in seeing it as a play and as a while, middle school community.”
Entitled “Out of Bounds,” the Working Theatre Group presented the outreach version of the play that is targeted to fifth through ninth grades. It explores the issue of cyberbullying from the perspective of 14-year-old Amy.
Afterwards, the actors talked with the students — minus the sixth-graders who had special classes scheduled for immediately following the play — about what they learned, whether they experienced bullying — either as the victim or the perpetrator — and what they should do to combat it.
Middle School Principal Jeremy Langner said bringing in the Working Group cast helps bring another perspective to help support the conversation on the subject matter.
“It’s a good process and a good opportunity to say, ‘Hey, kids, remember, the world you live in today puts you in situations like this, so how are you going to handle them?’” Langner told Waverly Newspapers by phone Tuesday afternoon.
“I really hope that they understand the next time that they think they’re going to do something on social media that it has an impact. It’s easy to use ‘keyboard courage’ and just do something that is not face-to-face with somebody else, but the fact that you might see it as a joke, it actually hurts somebody’s feelings.”
Eighth-grader Luca Myers said the play was educational.
“They portrayed the lesson in a manner where students won’t forget what they taught,” Myers said, “because it was more fun.”
Classmate Katelyn Eggena agreed.
“It’s a fun way to teach the kids why bullying is not good,” Eggena said.
Hunzelman, with the GBPAC, said the members of the Working Group cast all have Iowa ties.
“(The company) is out of Iowa City and all of the actors attended high school, college or previously performed in this production,” she said. “At the GBPAC, it’s important for us to hire and support our local artists.”
Myers and Eggena said they haven’t witnessed bullying in their school. However, seeing the play, Eggena said an important lesson is how someone would respond.
“You don’t have to follow what others do, because it’s sometimes not the right choice,” she said.
Myers added: “I feel like it was something that kids needed to know. Some students, of course, are going through this situation.”
Langner liked the way the Working Group presented the scenario.
“It was local people from the state of Iowa,” he said. “I liked how they were very realistic in their examples. They shared their own personal stories as kids and interjected just the humor in it.
“It’s not a laughing matter, but at the same time, it provided the opportunity to not feel the pressure of the situation but enjoy the 40 minutes together.”
He added middle-schoolers today live in a different time with different technology than when he was their age.
“One, I tell kids that I got my first cell phone at 21, and that was strictly to call people,” he said. “We didn’t have the cameras and all of the extra features. I remember starting to text when I was 24 or 25 years old.
“I think the biggest change isn’t necessarily the kids, I think it’s for parents and adults to understand and be aware of what’s happening in their kids’ lives. I think the kids’ communication to their parents to say, ‘Yeah, I know this,’ or, ‘I know this situation,’ or, ‘I’ve dealt with this,’ and be advocates for others. You can’t just go to the events and be done with it. You just continually have to educate yourself and prove yourself and help others as well in similar situations.”
For the students, they took away important points.
“Bullying is not acceptable, and neither is standing witness to it,” Myers said.
“You don’t have to do what other thing is a popular decision,” Eggena added. “Do what’s right for you.”