Last night, I traveled to Black Diamond, Alberta, a small town of roughly 2,500 located SW of Calgary. The reason for my trip was to take part in the screening of the movie Bully, a documentary focused on 5 different kids who have been bullied and their stories, a few told by their parents since two of the kids took their own lives due to being bullied.
I first heard about this screening a few weeks ago after I first watched Bully on my own. I was moved by the stories and when the end credits rolled, I immediately went onto the website (http://www.thebullyproject.com) to find out more about the project and see if they were having any events close to me. I signed up for the Black Diamond screening and also got in touch with the organize, Paulette M., who is the Guidance Counsellor at Oilfields High School, where the movie was shown. We chatted about the event briefly but when I told her I was bullied as a kid and that I’m currently visiting schools talking about my story from being bullied to doing what I loved to being in the Guinness Book of World Records, she mentioned that they might be interested in bringing me in for a presentation in the new year.
Upon arriving in Black Diamond, I immediately looked for Paulette and she was as you would hope a Guidance Counsellor to be – friendly and cheerful. I arrived around 6pm and so I had half an hour before the movie started. While parents and students slowly filtered in, I introduced myself to the principal and an RCMP officer, whom they had invited to speak on the panel discussion after the movie. I was really hoping to see lots of kids out but as is the case with many events, the attendance was quiet. I would estimate close to 30 people total although there were enough chairs for 100+. It made the gym feel empty but it wouldn’t detract from the message of the movie.
Paulette made a brief speech before the movie began and then the lights went down. I was excited to watch the movie again. I find, especially with documentaries, that you miss a lot of information the first time so watching the movie multiple times is very beneficial to learning. I also decided to make notes since I really wanted to develop a presentation for schools that was not only relevant, but also on point and would have an impact with the kids. I’ll share the notes with you at the end of this post.
Throughout the movie, during some poignant scenes, I’m sure I heard some awkward fidgeting which I can assume was due to people fighting back tears (and I’m sure some people let them flow). It’s hard enough for me to watch it so I can only imagine how hard it would be for a parent, teacher or kid to watch some of the scenes. They really hit home.
After the movie, the members of the panel discussion were introduced – Paulette along with the Principal, Vice Principal and the RCMP officer would be on the adults panel while 4 kids, from grades 9, 10, 10 and 11 were on the kids panel.
Each adult and kid had a bit they wanted to say related to their reactions after watching the movie and also based on how they felt about bullying. What I found out before the movie began is that the town had dealt with a hazing incident a few months prior during which time, concerned citizens actually phone the RCMP and reported what had happened. A small town has its benefits for sure.
After each panelist said their piece, the floor was opened to questions. There was also a website provided where members of the audience could ask questions anonymously (which I chose to do partly because I like technology and partly because I wanted to sit back and observe). I asked 2 questions – one being related to how the school deals with bullying currently and the second being focused on prevention rather than treatment. I find prevention to be the most effective way to tackle an issue and especially with the goal of my presentation to be inspiring and creating lasting change, I really wanted to find out the answer to this question so it would help me tailor my presentation to the prevention mindset. Many of the answers were what I heard in the movie but to be honest, that’s not a bad thing. Every parent wants to know that their kid will be safe when they let them walk out the door to go to school. But teachers can only do so much. For me, riding the bus was one of the worst times for me. Being on the bus with older kids, they would relentlessly pick on us. And I was friends with some of those kids outside of school. But it was a way for them to be “cool”. To exert their power over the younger kids.
But I really liked how teach educator took the time to explain their answers and go more in depth. What really surprised me was the number of initiatives that are in place at OHS. It was exciting to hear that both students and teachers are working together to address the issue of bullying in the school. It’s the best way to tackle the issue – from both sides – both student and teacher.
One of the comments which really stood out to me was a comment made by one of the student panelists, a girl in grade 11, when she was talking about the “safe spaces” that OHS has created for students to feel safe. Many teachers have put stickers up in their classroom but it comes down marketing – kids don’t trust teachers, they trust their own peers. So until other kids are seen using the safe spaces and until other kids talk about how the safe spaces have helped them, many students won’t realize the potential of those spaces. Having worked in marketing for over 10 years, I’ve seen this in many different industries, so why should we think a school should be any different? For someone who is only in grade 11, she provided insight that many marketers don’t even realize. I think for this reason, it’s great that Paulette and her staff are involving students on the various committees aimed at preventing bullying. I was glad I made the drive to Black Diamond and took the time to observe and listen rather than talk and share. That will come later. This is all a great learning experience for me still.
Notes from the Bully movie screening/panel discussion in Black Diamond, November 20, 2013