Northview High School breaks down ‘Bully’ movie, plans to spread its message via student leaders
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A week after premiering at Celebration Cinema North, the powerful film “Bully” is still on the minds of West Michigan guidance counselors, teachers and administrators. Some are interested in using it as another tool to help efforts to create safer learning environments.
Northview High School, which had the principal and nine staffers attend the documentary, is having those discussions.The film shows real-life, emotional footage of children who are victims of bullying, including two who committed suicide.
A central figure is Alex Libby, a 12-year-old is who was physically and verbally abused routinely on the school bus.
“As educators, we could preview the film and get a feeling for the content and how it may affect any of our students who may see it,” said Principal Mark Thomas. “Teaching people how to successfully interact with and treat others is in my mind just as important as it is for us to teach them math, science and English.”
Joining Thomas were guidance counselors, teachers and other faculty.
“The eighty or 90 percent of students who witness bullying can be the difference makers,” said Sarah Gammans, a guidance counselor at Northview High School, one of 10 staffers who attended the premiere. “If they decide to take a stand, that’s when change can happens. Parents, teachers and administrators can’t do it alone, students have to be a piece of the puzzle.
In the movie, Gammans said, there were students questioned about bullying incidents who said they didn’t see or hear anything.
“As educators, our goal is to have a highly-evolved emotional radar and to proactively be able to take action and work with kids to prevent and resolve bullying situations,” said Thomas about their responsibility to act.
School leaders are discussing having their student leadership groups see the film and be a resource, including their Diversity Youth Partnership group, which has been trained to address topics like bullying, and their Peer Listeners group and student government. The school has 1,200 students.
“We very clearly realize that the issue of bullying revolves around human interaction and relationships,” Thomas said.
Gammans, president-elect of the West Michigan Counselors Association, said technology has changed the game on bullying. She said it has gone from attacks in the hallway or on a bus to attacks that can occur “24/7” with texting, emails and social media.
“If we can continue to promote an environment that encourages, promotes and coaches the concept of mindfulness regarding relationships and opportunities to build positive self-esteem and respect, we will achieve great success,’’ Thomas said.
On the other hand, he said, when individuals become mindless and engage in conversations and actions based on their personal needs as opposed to being considerate and empathetic to others, they must be accountable for those situations as well. He said that means recognizing the negative behaviors, owning them, apologizing and using them as “teachable moments” to avoid repeating the mistake in the future.
He said it is incumbent upon adults to take the lead.
Both Thomas and Gammans referenced the administrator in the film, who comes off as ineffective and clueless.
“I think administrators overall are pretty astute and bullying is definitely on everyone’s radar,” Gammans said. “We take it seriously at Northview.”
Thomas said the incompetent administrator is a reminder of how so many people have a responsibility and role in how children are treated. He said people can’t lose sight that this issue is about relationships.
“I doubt we will likely ever completely eradicate bullying based on the fact that we have so many people coming to us from such varied backgrounds and upbringings along with other variables as well,” Thomas said. “What we can say with certainty is that we will work diligently to create a learning climate based on mutual care and respect for others.”
“Our proactive efforts will hopefully reduce unwanted behaviors but when they do occur we will do our best to thoughtfully resolve the issue with the goal of promoting learning and future prevention of a recurrence.”
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