The students at Amboy Middle School are sitting on the floor, quietly observing the stage where an actor portraying a student is being mocked and ridiculed by a classmate. All the while, a flurry of beeps, tweets, whooshes and other smartphone notification sounds continually ring out as the actors on stage portray how social media and messaging apps can be used as a tool for wide-scale gossip and public shaming, which contributes to modern bullying.
Within a matter of minutes, the tables turned and the on-stage bully found himself being bullied. The play, called "Above Between Below," serves as an illustration that bullying is a behavior and not an identity; that anyone can quickly become an instigator or victim of bullying; and that bystanders play an important role in preventing and stopping these behaviors.
Created specifically for a middle school audience, the play demonstrated the quickly shifting status of bully, bullied, and bystander. The program at Amboy Middle featured the performance followed by a facilitated discussion about bullying and how everyone can help by taking personal responsibility for their own power to harm or help others.
Middle Schools in the Battle Ground Public Schools district have introduced such programs to students as part of its educational efforts in Social Emotional Learning to improve overall school climate. Since 2012, the district has seen a reduction in reports of bullying from 36.7 to 26.7 percent among eighth graders.
“This program allowed students to see and talk about the different forms of bullying that can occur,” said Amboy Assistant Principal April Vonderharr. “It’s important for kids to see examples of how bullying behavior often isn’t physical, and that our actions can easily have hurtful, unintended consequences. The interactive discussion at the end of the performance provided a great opportunity for our students to talk about how they could help a friend or how they might respond if they were being bullied themselves.”
The performance was put on by Kaiser Permanente’s Educational Theatre Program in collaboration with the Oregon Children’s Theatre. The program is available free of charge to middle schools in the region. More information about the program is online at http://www.etpnorthwest.org/programs-list/above-between-below.