Hands and words are not for hurting: taking a stand on bullying

Friday, January 27, 2012
From "Thank You for Flushing My Head Down the Toilet" are Dylan Harms, Jaden Van Berkum and Sarah Freese. / Photo by Lorri Glawe

Bullying will not be tolerated in the Alta-Aurelia School District. From the youngest age to the oldest, the students hear it, learn it, practice it - bullying is wrong.

Last week the Aurelia elementary and A-A middle school students took a vow to prevent violence and bullying.

The students will repeat the pledge of allegiance and the 14 word pledge - "I will not use my hands or my words for hurting myself or others" - each day as the school day begins.

The Hands and Words Are Not For Bullying project is nation-wide. The mission of the organization is to educate each person in every community about their moral and legal right to live free of abuse and violence.

The district's goal is to make all students aware that they have this right.

Seven members of the Aurelia community took the vow along with the students - police chief Gene Suhr, mayor Jim Tell, the mayor's wife Ann Tell, fire chief Deloy Bruce, and business owners Pam Allen and Carla and Bruce Peterson - showing their support for anti-bullying in the community.

After the pledge, each had his/her hand traced in purple, his/her name was written on the hand print, and the poster will be displayed in the school.

In addition, the students each student traced his/her hand and the hands will be put up in the school, showing continuous support.

"The 14 words can change the world," said school counselor Barb Huseman.

The nation-wide logo is made up of a purple hand - which represents all communities around the world - with a red heart in the center of the palm representing kind words. In its entirety, the logo represents a symbol of hope that one day the world will live in a world without violence.

The middle school students shared a song and a choral reading relating to the theme.

At the high school, this time of year generally is buzzing with speech students sharing their talents and messages - whether they are comedy or serious.

This year, Brad Nesbitt, speech coach for the last 30-plus years, selected a one-act play for a group of 31 students to perform for speech contests. The title, "Thank You for Flushing My Head Down the Toilet," by Jonathan Dorf, deals with bullying. The program includes conversations with the bullied and those that bully.

"This relates to the kids," he said.

The bullied make excuses to be late to school or not make it to school at all and share reasons why they are being bullied - they are too tall, too fat, their parents drive an old car, they don't wear the right clothes or have the right friends. The bully needs just one excuse to harass other kids.

And in the the performance, the students talk of their fears - and the panic attacks in the middle of the night, the text messages in the middle of the night saying, "you're gonna get it tomorrow", having their home work taken so "they" can copy it and convey the feeling that no matter what - it will not stop.

"They don't even know me," the bullied share.

"This takes a different twist," Nesbitt says of the play. "They are bullied enough that they inturn bully to survive. IT's traumatic when you look at bullying in real life - it's been around forever but with the media so prevalent today - with Face Book and You Tube - it brings everything so close. The stories you see, and the victims, they don't just have a name, they are people."

He continued saying that bullying is something that is heard about and read about every day; it's not just happening in the big cities and it's not just something read about in text books.

It is such a striking play. One of the bullied shares through dialogue that he has been put here - to be picked on by others.

"The kids took this project to heart," Nesbitt said. The message is understood by the students and the audience members.

And the end of the play, well it doesn't turn out with a happy ending, but that, too is another lesson the A-A performers can take away.

"This is real life and this happens."

Incidentally, the piece received a II rating at the district contest and will not be going on to the state contests. The kids were disappointed but they knew they had performed the best they could have and each will be touched by the message, as will those who had the opportunity to see it.

While a costly piece to do, Nesbitt is glad he selected the piece.

"Five years down the road they will still look at this play and be moved by it. I think they all grew through the process."

And they will, perhaps, be more aware of bullying in their school - though the students or staff are not aware of any such actions going in there - and in the areas they will be in down the road.

That is worth more than any amount of money.