About one-third of elementary through high school students are affected by bullying at school. And more than half of students have been victims of cyber bullying, according to bullystatistics.org.
Some Murrieta students are well aware of the problem — because most can be counted among these percentages.
On Thursday night, the advanced drama class at Thompson Middle School presented “Bully Proof,” a 15-scene play they wrote and directed based on their experiences to help those in the community understand the many forms bullying can take.
Themes in the play included stereotyping, name calling and cyber bullying, as well as discrimination based on culture and sexual orientation.
Language arts and drama teacher Barbara Everett said she wanted to produce “a typical middle school play,” but the drama students were motivated to create an open dialogue about bullying among students, parents and the community after seeing the positive impact an anti-drug assembly had on students in November.
The success of that program “made the students gain confidence to tackle the bully issue,” Everett said. “The advanced drama students are a very creative, unique group of young people who are not afraid to speak out for what’s right, and most all of them have been teased and bullied at school.”
To prepare for the play, students spent two days in the library doing research before embarking on a five-week writing, producing and practicing schedule.
“The students are very serious and passionate about getting rid of bullying,” Everett said. “They are tired of seeing friends hurt or being hurt. Some even deleted their Facebook to stop ‘mean girl’ talk,” Everett said.
Eighth-grader Kiley Staufenbeil, who helped pen the scenes dealing with cyber bullying and bullying based on sexual orientation, feels the pain of those affected by bullying.
“I’m personally impacted by it so heavily because I see what it does to me and my friends,” Kiley said. “Bullying can lead to suicide. It’s gotten so much worse and it needs to be addressed now.”
Fellow eighth-grader Garrett Spejcher added to Kiley’s thoughts.
“Bullying is a major issue that’s addressed less than drug abuse and it shouldn’t be,” Garrett said. “It’s not funny and it needs to end. Bullying affects the victim, the community and even the bully, whether or not they realize it.”
Though Monique Suraci’s 13-year-old son, Anthony, was not in the play, she still felt it important to attend.
“Bullying just shouldn’t be happening, and I’m glad that the school is addressing it for all students to see,” Suraci said.
Eighth-grader Shad Church hoped the production would open parents’ eyes about the degree to which bullying affects youngsters.
“A lot of parents just don’t know what we go through,” Shad said. “They tell us to tell our teachers, but that’s not enough sometimes. Hopefully this play will help everyone see what it’s really like and stop kids from being bullied.”
Chad’s mother, Starla Church, agreed with her son.
“Hopefully this play will get out the message that it’s not OK to bully,” Church said. “Children shouldn’t feel threatened in what’s supposed to be a safe environment.”
Tiffany Austin-Suniga is a Press-Enterprise correspondent. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org