Monday, June 17, 2019

Dramatic Change Anti-Bullying Pre-Conference: First Stage’s Bully Ban program

A few weeks ago I was out for dinner with two friends from high school, both of whom I had not seen or been much in contact with since our years in school together.  I can’t say I had a terribly horrible high school experience; I wasn’t overly popular, but I had friends and was very active in student government, the newspaper and other school organizations.  However, I also can’t say I look back on my teen years with unparalleled joy and elation—I, like many high schoolers dealt with my fare share of gossip, teasing, exclusion and rumors.  So after high school, I distanced myself from those people—not because I had some deep-seeded anger against them, but because I knew there were better things out there and I wanted to forget about the hurtful experiences and move on to the next chapter in my life.  Fast forward to 15 years later, as I sat in a restaurant with these two friends catching up with each other’s lives and reminiscing about old times, one of my friends paused and said, “You know, Julia, we were really mean to you.  I’m truly sorry for that.”  This comment took me by complete surprise, but I played it off and responded as if it was no big deal and never really affected me…but it did.  And after dinner, as I got into my car to drive away from the high school memories and back to my current life, I breathed a sigh that melted years of hidden hurt away.   It is so interesting to me when my personal life and my professional life meet. As First Stage’s Education Director, I go into classrooms every week, working with young people to discover how they can make choices that demonstrate kindness and respect towards one another, lessen conflict when it arises, and stand up for what’s right.

First Stage has offered Theater in Education programs throughout its 25 years to incite young people’s excitement for learning and help classroom teachers explore curriculum using interactive, imaginative and integrated methods. In all of our programming, First Stage is committed to nurturing students’ social and emotional well-being through engagement in dramatic experiences.  In 2009 First Stage’s Education Department devised a week-long classroom residency that examines the different forms of bullying that occur in the school community, while working further to promote respect and tolerance among classmates and teach tactics in problem solving, positive conflict resolution and overcoming obstacles. We are thrilled to be a part of TYA/USA and AATE’s Dramatic Change: An Anti-Bullying Initiative pre-conference program at the annual American Alliance for Theater and Education conference on August 8th, 2012, to share our Bully Ban program with other theater educators and practitioners.

The Bully Ban program addresses bullying by talking about “Bullying Behaviors”—those disrespectful actions all of us are capable of doing that make another person feel lesser, embarrassed, fearful, hurt, or excluded, and those actions that have the potential of being repeated.  These actions may include gossiping, teasing, not letting someone play with them or sit next to them, disrespecting someone else’s belonging, etc.  We do not place blame on those who have performed disrespectful actions, nor do we draw attention to those who have been the victim of disrespectful actions.  Instead, we work with students to explore how we can all move forward and come up with solutions to make better, more respectful and kinder choices.

We do not come into a classroom with a formula for eliminating disrespect or bullying behaviors—we work with students to explore issues that are relevant to them, and together find positive solutions to these problems.  The curriculum for this program is not only tailored for each individual grade level, from K4—8th grade, but also for each specific classroom community we work with.   Some of the key topics the early elementary curriculum focuses on include: understanding our feelings and emotions, and being aware of others’ feelings and emotions; practicing positive ways to control anger and handle disappointments big and small; and accepting and embracing differences and identifying respectful ways to communicate.  The primary themes of the upper elementary curriculum include: addressing and positively handling friends that bully; standing up for those who are the victims of bullying behaviors; and knowing when the help of an adult is needed.  The subjects the middle school curriculum explores mainly include: making positive choices that reduce conflict but maintain personal power; practicing helpful comebacks (a comeback is not a return insult); and cyberbullying.

The Bully Ban is only the first step in eliminating bullying behavior and achieving a positive and respectful school climate.  Change in a community doesn’t happen overnight, and we regard the Bully Ban as a partnership between First Stage and the classroom teachers we are working with, whose job it is to continue developing a culture of respect in their classroom throughout the school year.  To assist teachers with this significant task, First Stage provides the teachers with a copy of the curriculum adapted for their classroom, which includes additional resources, discussion questions and activities for them to facilitate with their students.

In this Dramatic Change pre-conference workshop, participants will delve into First Stage’s Bully Ban and Character Education programs.  Utilizing activities based in creative drama and Theatre for Social Change, participants will gain a hands-on understanding of how these activities are performed for optimal success and student reflection in a brief amount of time.  Furthermore, participants will have the opportunity to engage in the activities in the role of a student, so they can fully realize the impact each activity has on the student. Specific activities will include: devising and implementing community-specific activating scenes, taking part in dialogue-engaging theatre for social change activities such as active discussion starters, and exploring a range of sculpting-based activities that lead to scene development.  We are looking forward to collaborating with the pre-conference participants and sharing with them this community-based approach that has allowed us to connect with students at all grade levels, and provide them with the tools to initiate positive changes in themselves and their community.

P.S.: First Stage’s Bully Ban is on Groupon Grassroots from July 30th-August 7th.  Check it out at:

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