New Jersey seventh grader Luca Mattielli says his problems with bullies began in elementary school.
“I guess I’m not respected towards them, because they’re all the cool kids and they got their big shot stuff,” Mattielli says. “And I’m not. I’m just boring. I’m boring old me… boring to the sense where I am not the greatest soccer player that they’ve ever known. I was always picked last during gym.”
CBS News was there as Mattielli and his classmates watched a 360-degree video, made by their 8th grade peers, for the first time. Through virtual reality, the students show each other what it feels like to be excluded from activities like basketball.
Michael Davino, the superintendent of the Springfield School District, introduced virtual reality technology into the curriculum last year.
“We needed a way to convey to those people, ‘if you knew what this felt like, you might not do it,'” Davino says.
Davino says the ultimate goal of the virtual reality videos is, “To open up to as many young people and adults as we can, the serious and long-range impact of being mean-spirited just to satisfy yourself. And that in the end your satisfaction is fleeting, and those people are suffering.”
Although 49 states have anti-bullying legislation, there is no federal law. Nearly half of children in grades four through 12 reported being bullied in school at least once in the past month. And nearly a third of students admitted to bullying others in the same time frame.
Davino was driven to start doing the videos, in part, by New Jersey college student
“It’s essentially become a reporting law and doesn’t really address the underlying problems that lead to harassment, intimidation and bullying,” Davino says.
So, he teamed up with Kinful, a company that teaches social-emotional learning by using virtual reality to recreate real-life scenarios like the cyber-bullying Erica Carrie faced in high school.
Carrie says her peers picked on her because she had a lot of guy friends.
“There would always be some sort of slut shaming,” Carrie says. “I think there was one point where I just, like, did not wanna even go out of my room at home.”
Now a college freshman, she hopes this experiment breaks through to both students and parents.
“I want them to take away that we have to think about how the bully is feeling, and that they do have an insecurity, and that we should be nicer to them, as well,” Carrie says. “We kind of glaze over that when talking about bullying.”
High school freshman Morghan Blair hopes her video impacts others and reminds them how much words can hurt.
“And the one word that I don’t like always comes up in every conversation,” Blair says. “The N-word. So I used that. I had to show people how it feels to be in my shoes if they had to for one day.”
She says learning to forgive has helped her heal, but the scars will never entirely fade.
“It’s like a birthmark,” Blair says. “It can’t always be covered up, but it’s always just gonna be there with you, but at the end of the day, it makes you stronger as a person.”