Making a film about bullying has opened the eyes of several young students at Lake Avenue Elementary School.
One student told the principal, “I didn’t realize I was a bully.”
Another said, “I should have said that differently. I should have thought about their feelings.”
And although there was never a flood of bullying-related complaints at the school, the number of incidents fell dramatically, Principal Barbara Messier said.
She thinks students learned to stop bullying through making the film because they had to pretend to be the victims of a bully.
“They see it in different ways,” she said; the project involved all of the fourth- and fifth-graders.
Many of the students have learned how to “unmake” a bully — rather than simply confronting the person.
“I think the children absolutely know, have strategies to take care of situations where they feel bullied,” she said.
One fifth-grader told her Thursday that he had been bullied by another student since second grade. After the film, he learned how to respond.
“He said, ‘I’m able to stand up to this guy,’ ” she said. “I said I am so sorry I never noticed [the bullying]. You know, bullying is a very, very sophisticated behavior.”
Now students reference the film, “Bystanders,” when dealing with bullying. They’re aware of the “hot spots” — the cafeteria, the lockers — where supervision isn’t as strict.
And they know what might make someone act like an aggressor — which is different from labeling them as a bully.
An aggressor can be won over; a bully is simply a monster to be defeated. They prefer to see the potential friend behind the aggressor’s actions.
The results have delighted filmmaker Mike Feurstein, who designed the program and now runs it at school districts across the region.
“It’s amazing to me,” he said, adding that some of the students he taught also handled a bullying situation in a Little League last summer.
“It’s fun, sure. But those kids that stopped that bullying ring — wow,” he said. “I never imagined it would have that effect.”
His first student-run film on the topic, “How to UnMake a Bully,” made at Glendaal Elementary School in the Scotia-Glenville School District, won second-place at the Telly Awards, an international competition for short films.
“Bystanders” has now won first place at the Telly Awards.
That film, done by Glendaal students, focused on how others could help the victims of a bully.
“Some kids are afraid if they intervene they’ll become the target,” Feurstein said. “This one was about situations you can defuse on your own, with your friends.”
The students wrote the script after discussing the issue in class. They created superhero bystanders, each with their own super powers.
One bystander had the power of super sight, to see from across the playground and notice if their friend’s body language changed.
Another had the power of super hearing, to detect changes in their friend’s voice when they claimed they were fine.
The third super-bystander had the power of mega-brain — the ability to think things through.
And the fourth had a double power: power booster and power drainer. That bystander could remove the bully’s power source — by calling the victim away, for example — or boost a victim’s power through encouragement and praise.
The films have proved so effective in reducing bullying that Feurstein recently formed his own business, Better Actions Now, to expand his reach. He now spends a week in a school, usually working with several classes, each of which develop their own short film. By the end of the week, the film is done, and he’s moving on the next school.
“I also do other things in film, but this is very fulfilling,” he said.