Video: Knock out bullying

Photo courtesy Jim Kelly/ Teacher Jim Kelly and his fi lm-making students. Back row, from l., are: Sarah Paonessa, Alexa Cavallo, Brianna Campo, Chalotte Terhune, Justin Roman, Eric Davis, Ruben Pereira and Sarah Montes. Bottom, from l., are: Matt Delmauro, Jaimie Towey, Sam Mangravito, Raquel McCabe and Michelle Nastasi.


By Jeff Bahr 

An anti-bullying Public Service Announcement (PSA) video produced by Nutley High School students begins rather deceptively. It’s a disarming stroke that makes the short fi lm immensely powerful. As the video opens, viewers are introduced to a typical student – scarcely different from the multitudes that have come before him and will come after him – stepping up to a lectern to deliver a happy commencement speech. We’ve all seen this scene a thousand times. But this one is different.

At any moment you expect to hear the young man giving thanks to those who helped him on his journey, while taking a few humorous jabs at friends and faculty for good measure. But “Tom’s Story” omits the standard salutations and light-hearted quips that have become part and parcel of such speeches. Instead, it tackles an insidious problem – a pervasive, deliberate, manmade cancer that targets its intended victims persistently and with great malice aforethought.

In the fictional video, Tom is introduced by a teacher as Nutley High’s 2012 valedictorian and summoned to the stage. The young man opens his speech by alluding to the standard “trials and tribulations” of the student experience. Typical stuff, really. But then, things take a wholly unexpected turn.

Tom, you see, has spent his school days not in happy contemplation of a rosy future, like other students, but in an abject hell – feeling hurt, alienated, unloved and worthless as a direct result of the incessant bullying that he has long endured. As scenes of Tom’s torment are shown in the background for effect, the young man ominously declares, “ At one point I never thought I’d make it here.”

The meaning behind Tom’s comment is apparent. At that moment, a person would have to have ice water running through their veins not to feel genuinely moved by the young man’s pain and crushing sense of hopelessness.

Sadly, there are many who know such pain and torment intimately. According to ABC News, a recent national survey found that 30% of U.S. students in grades six through 10 are involved in moderate or frequent bullying. For members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT), things are even worse. A 2010 survey undertaken by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) showed that 90% of LGBT youth experience harassment at school.

The National Education Association estimates that some 160,000 children miss school each day as a direct result of their fear of bullying and/or intimidation at the hands of other students. If viewed in sheer numbers, the bullying problem has now reached epidemic proportions. According to the National School Safety Center, American schools harbor approximately 2.1 million bullies and 2.7 million victims.

These statistics, as worrisome as they are, fail to factor in the increasing problem of cyber-bullying. This impersonal form of online character attacks and reputation sullying may seem less harmless to the uninitiated, but not so to the millions of individuals who have found themselves on the receiving end of such vicious cyber-barbs.

Tom is clearly not alone.

The idea to shoot the anti-bullying video arrived in conjunction with the “Week of Respect,” a statewide observance that directs school districts to provide age-appropriate instruction focusing on the prevention of harassment, intimidation and bullying of students.

According to teacher and video director Jim Kelly, the students “used storyboards, wrote the script, and put together a shooting agenda,” to get the project off of the ground. They then assessed and evaluated the film, scene by scene, until everything fit properly in place. The emphasis during each step of production was to “make it real,” said Kelly.

The finished product elicited a “very positive response” from the student body, according to Kelly. “It hits home when students see other students (in such trying situations),” explained the teacher when asked about the video’s overall impact with its intended audience.

For those who wonder precisely how “Tom’s Story” ends, suffice to say that one single schoolmate with courage and compassion steps up to make the difference in Tom’s tortured life. Hopefully, after viewing this thought provoking film, others similarly enlightened may wish to step into his shoes.

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