LOWELL — Words can hit like a bullet.
Especially when derogatory comments are posted on Facebook, reaching hundreds of people in less than a minute. To help stem a national crisis that’s causing some kids to make deadly decisions, two Chelmsford principals turned to UMass art students yesterday for ideas on enhancing their anti-bullying curriculum.
“Our school district has been working on anti-bullying programs for more than six years now, before it became a state mandate,” said Parker Middle School Principal Denise Rainis. “But we’re always looking at opportunities to tackle the problem through a fresh set of eyes. These college students are still close enough to high school that their own experiences can teach some valuable lessons in reaching our target audience.”
From posters and videos to T-shirts and wristbands, students in Karen Roehr’s graphic-design and advertising class offered educators several public-service ad campaigns against bullying. The grant-funded project gives students a chance to see how their work can impact a community, and provides Chelmsford schools more tools for teaching.
Times have changed and so has the picture of bullying. The idea of the schoolyard bully stealing lunch money is falling by the wayside of the digital age, said Chelmsford High Principal Anne O’Bryant.
“The problem is even more widespread today because of social media,” O’Bryant said. “People aren’t always comfortable saying something to someone
face to face. But when you can put it on a monitor or a cellphone, you’re taking out that human element.”
High-school students can be the toughest audience to engage.
“You have to find a way to get the message across without being preachy,” said student David Driscoll. “When you’re in high school, you don’t like people telling you what to do.”
Powerful images, said Jaclyn Smith and Lindsay Bartelson, will catch their attention and make them remember.
The girls unveiled a series of PSA posters, including a trail of gun smoke behind the words “Everybody Hates You”; a laptop that had its Apple icon replaced with a handgun; and a bloody razor blade meant to illustrate how bullied teens can take out their depression through cutting.
“It’s edgy, but it hits home,” O’Bryant said. “It’s not a note getting passed to you at lunch. It’s usually a comment going up online where 800 people see it, and that can have devastating consequences for a student who has it happening to him every day.”
Smith and Bartelson said their graphic posters weren’t meant to be taken lightly.
“Words do hurt,” said Bartelson, 22, of Pepperell. “The posters convey that in a way that will make students think. You get the message and understand that it’s serious.”
Other projects focused on ways for students to boost each other up.
“Rethink the Ink” encourages middle-schoolers to say positive things about each other by using a chalk wall for writing complimentary messages. The goal, said students, is to “erase negativity.”
Another presentation put forward posters and wristbands with the slogan, “Defend Different,” calling on students to be champions for the unfamiliar and unpopular.
Projects selected by Chelmsford schools will be put into action through a $5,000 federal Learn and Serve Grant. The anti-bullying campaigns will include print ads, posters, billboards, Internet, video and radio ads.
Rainis told the students several of their ideas will complement her school’s current anti-bullying curriculum, which is geared toward empowering the bullied and providing bystanders with the tools they need to intervene.
“It’s giving us more to help students recognize and stand up against the problem,” Rainis said.