During the school year, children in elementary and secondary schools crowd into their auditorium, buzzing with the excitement of a non-routine assembly. The guest actors for the day put on a show, “Don’t Tell Jessica.” As the story unfolds, the students begin to notice similarities between what Jessica experiences and what some of them experience every day: harassment through social media and texting.
Scott Nolte, Taproot Theater Company’s producing artistic director, said the company tours with shows, like “Don’t Tell Jessica,” to help elementary and secondary students see different perspectives and reactions to social and emotional behavior. About 10 years ago, he said the company responded to a need for a program about bullying and harassment.
“Schools and parents were concerned [bullying] was getting out of hand and didn’t have a framework to address it,” Nolte explained. “We considered how we could approach this issue in a dramatic way so the children in the audience could see their scenarios on stage and see how each of them is affected by bullying.”
The recent bullying of bus monitor Karen Klein in Greece, N. Y., again brings up the topic. Nolte said today’s society seems to be more divisive and hateful because no one is compromising or listening. The behavior — motivated by race, sex or religion — becomes vicious in middle and high school, especially with new technology, he said.
“Being verbally abusive to someone you don’t agree with is almost common,” Nolte said. “Take that down a step to our children, and they are seeing this and acting it out in the same way.”
Nolte said reality shows like “American Idol” and “Jersey Shore” contribute to the problem because they reward competition at the expense of someone else’s dignity.
The theater company used the reality show “Survivor” in an earlier production because it was popular at the time. The physical and emotional abuse present in the reality show gave a perfect platform to show students the dangers of bullying behavior, he said.
“Children are learning that it is OK to behave this way and are possibly
becoming more violent and belligerent,” Nolte said. “We have to figure out how to help the kids realize that the life and world around us would be much better if we listened and respected each other.”
Taproot Theater works in conjunction with the Committee for Children, also based in Seattle, to develop curriculum for their programs, Nolte said. The committee provides researched methods and discussion questions to properly teach the students about proper social and emotional behavior, he said.
Mia Doces, the senior programs and media specialist for the Committee for Children, said the 30-year-old nonprofit works with students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and focuses on education and advocacy for child safety and well-being.
In at least 70 different countries, the agency supplies a social-emotional learning curriculum for educators and schools. Children learn how to develop empathy, regulate their emotions, solve problems and take different perspectives with the help of
the organization’s lessons, she said.
“Our program works on the foundation of a story,” Doces explained. “Our curriculum has children practice with situations, like wanting to join a soccer game. From this, they learn what skills it would take to ask to join and practice
in the lesson.”
Part of teaching the children involves
video links and homework activities for their parents, Doces said: Bullying and other problems cannot be resolved if the parents immediately deny a problem. If all of the adults in a community work together, positive language and social skills can be reinforced both at home and at school, she said.
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