Students at St. Mary of the Assumption School discovered how to stop bullying in their community Wednesday by looking into a simple white box.
Inside the box was a mirror, and the lesson two educators and actors delivered to the school’s 175 students was that the solution lies with each one of them. “The Power of One” starts with each child.
Stephen Oropeza and Mia Vazquez, of Soren Bennick Productions, delivered the anti-bullying message through a series of skits, some with student volunteers. They explained the roles in bullying — bully, target and bystanders — the kinds of bullying — physical, verbal, exclusion and cyber — and how to stop the bullying cycle.
Oropeza and Vazquez performed for two groups, grades 5-8 and K-4. Soren Bennick Productions has performed at over 5,000 schools in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
“The message is that every person can make a difference about bullying. We like that message and refer back to it in lessons all year long. It empowers children to make a difference,” Principal Michelle Cox said. “St. Mary’s is a very safe learning environment. While we don’t have many of the problems children face in the world today, it is important to teach them how to respond to the challenges and threats, like bullying, they will unfortunately face.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one in three students admit to being bullied. The same study showed that over 29 percent of middle school students had experienced bullying in the classroom; 29 percent experienced it in hallways or around lockers; 23.4 percent were bullied in the cafeteria; 19.5 percent were bullied in gym class; and 12.2 percent of kids were bullied in the school restrooms.
“Bullying is a power imbalance,” Vazquez told the audience, adding that bullying has three aspects: It’s hurtful, repeated and purposeful.
Vazquez’s sister was a victim of cyberbullying, which partly inspired her to join the production company. She said her sister took matters into her own hands and reported the violation, causing it to stop.
Reporting bullying to authorities, either teachers or the police, was one of the key messages of the performance. Oropeza said too often students keep their feelings to themselves and the problems are never solved.
They also emphasized how bystanders often can make a difference. The DHHS statistics back up that premise, showing that 57 percent of bullying stops within 10 seconds of bystander intervention.
The messages stuck with Faith Cervantes and Karina Plata, a pair of St. Mary’s eighth-graders.
“Bullying is powerful,” Faith said.
“You can hurt people’s feelings,” Karina added.
“The more you learn, the more you can help,” Faith said.
“There might be a lot of powerful people out there, but you’re strong enough to stand up for yourself,” Karina concluded.