A high school football player pins a runty teammate against a locker.
“Hey, it’s embarrassing to get tackled by someone smaller than me,” he says as he pushes the sweaty-haired student around. “I look weak and effeminate. So now I’m overcompensating.”
A third guy joins in, whipping a towel at his pinned teammate.
“I’d also be ashamed by that,” he says. “I’m not waiting until it happens to me to make you feel small.”
The scene seems familiar, but the dialogue is obviously off.
That’s because it’s not real. It’s a commercial, one of two running on TV and radio stations all over Nevada using 10 Clark County drama students as actors. The commercials, one filmed at Palo Verde High School, are part of a statewide program called Flip the Script, spearheaded by RR Partners, a lobbying and public relations firm. Funded through donations, the commercials first aired this summer.
The idea is to point out that bullying isn’t acceptable.
“It’s not a rite of passage,” said Karen Galindo, dean of students at O’Callaghan Middle School, near Hollywood Boulevard and Owens Avenue. “It’s not boys will be boys, girls will be girls. This is wrong.”
But is the message coming across to students or landing on deaf ears?
The beginning of an answer can be found at Leavitt Middle School near Lone Mountain Road and Buffalo Drive.
About a year ago, the school held classes and activities to bring the anti-bullying message to students. But Leavitt went a step further to something called Sprigeo, an online program that allows students to report bullying.
The technology uses the Internet, often used to exacerbate bullying, to combat it. A suicide made national news a year ago when a Rutgers University freshmen in New Jersey jumped from a bridge to his death because his sexual encounter with another man was broadcast online.
Leavitt was one of two schools in the country to pilot the Sprigeo program last school year. Students are given a web address to file reports of bullying.
Reports are forwarded to whomever the school chooses. In this case, Principal Keith Wipperman. He said it has had an effect: less bullying.
At first, it was the victims reporting bullies. More reports are now coming from students witnessing others being harassed.
“They’re realizing, ‘It’s my responsibility to step up and respect others,’ ” he said. “That’s the message we put into them a year ago.”
Sprigeo is now in five Clark County schools and 19 schools outside of Nevada, creator Joe Bruzzese said. The five Clark County schools are Leavitt, Johnson, Becker and O’Callaghan middle schools, and Cowan Behavioral School. The program, which costs schools $300 annually, lets students report events anonymously. That’s the key, Bruzzese said.
“There’s a stigma associated with my office,” said Galindo, who is visited in her office by students who are reporting bullies. “They don’t want to be seen going in or leaving.”
Starting this year, O’Callaghan students can do the same thing from their computers or smartphones using Sprigeo. Ten have done so this school year.
Participating schools receive more reports than usual, Bruzzese said.
“Bullies tend to bully because they think no one’s going to report it,” Galindo said. “Now, if they do it enough, eventually someone’s going to report it.”
From Wipperman’s experience, no bully has been reported twice. And he follows up with students who give their names in reports, to monitor whether retaliation is a problem. It hasn’t been, to his knowledge.
TO EACH THEIR OWN
Each of the Clark County School District’s 357 schools must have an anti-bullying program in place, said Greta Peay , director of Equity and Diversity Education. It’s state law. But that doesn’t mean they’re all effective or pushed hard.
This year, the district is making it a top priority, she said. It’s starting something called Operation Respect at 10 schools. The principal and three staff members of each school will be trained, starting this month , on identifying disrespectful children. School staff are then given strategies to change that behavior. These four people would then pass on their training to others at the school.
More than 60 schools have applied, she said. Training for Operation Respect will expand to other schools until every campus that wants to participate is reached. The curriculum is free.
“We have a lot of programs out there, too many,” said district Deputy Superintendent Pedro Martinez.
The goal is to slim it down to the best few.
NASCAR driver Taylor Barton, raised in Las Vegas, is bringing his own program to Del Sol High School, near McLeod Drive and Patrick Lane, on Monday in conjunction with Challenge Day. About 200 students have volunteered to participate in the event running all day.
It takes all day because we’re trying to “break down barriers,” said Romero Martinez, science teacher and Challenge Day coordinator. And it takes time to “wear kids down” until they open up.
When Barton, 26, was in high school, he didn’t open up to anyone and tried to kill himself twice. Barton’s challenge was being Caucasian at a predominately minority high school that he didn’t want to name. He described the setting as more of a prison than school. On his first day, he fought with another student to prove himself. That became a habit of persistent aggression.
“I had bodyguards take me to class,” he said, recalling his constant state of depression as he pushed back against being pushed around. “You have so much anger when you’re being bullied or being the bully.”
He first attempted suicide by trying to drown himself. In his second suicide attempt, he wrapped a towel around his neck, tied it to a pipe and leaned forward.
“My friend found me, my face black and blue and purple,” he said. “When life becomes not fun for so many days, you lose hope.”
The pressure is still on today for those like Julian Dinkins, a sophomore at Arbor View High School, near Grand Teton and Buffalo drives. He was home-schooled through middle school because of constant harassment over his weight during elementary school.
“They just chose me,” he said.
He has returned to public school and is part of an anti-bullying effort there asking students to sign pledges not to bully. They have about 500 signatures so far, and want more.
Barton wants to spread his program and Challenge Day to every school.
The Sprigeo concept is worth spreading, Wipperman said, although he is concerned about student privacy issues with the program. That’s because a copy of each bullying report is also sent to Sprigeo. The district is working on developing its own program, which would solve the problem, Wipperman said.
Whatever schools do, students need to make the change, said 16-year-olds Chad Cordova and Matt Kelley, better known as Bully No. 2 and The Victim in the Flip the Script commercial. Best friends at Palo Verde High School, they auditioned just wanting to be on TV. But they came to a realization after countless takes on set.
When the commercial came out, girls were telling me, ‘Oh, you look cute,’ ” Matt said, raising the pitch of his voice. “I’m not on camera to look cute. I’m trying to get a point across.’ ”
Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.