Coe Elementary students recently got a lesson about bullying from a superhero.
“Super School,” a play written by Bethany Wallace, educates children about problem solving, empathy training, emotional management and bullying prevention.
Taproot Theatre presented the anti-bullying play for Coe Elementary students on March 3rd during a school-wide assembly.
The Super School play was designed with the help of curricula from the Committee for Children, a Seattle-based nonprofit that works to prevent bullying globally, said Nathan Jeffrey, director of outreach for Taproot Theatre.
“Committee for Children writes a bunch of information up about [bullying], and then we submit our plays to them for approval,” said Taproot Theatre actor Josh Smyth. He went on to explain that once a year the two groups sit down and discuss new information they have learned while doing the plays and how to incorporate that into the scripts.
The traveling theater company consists of five actors, who are responsible for putting up and breaking down the set, controlling the sound and costume changes, in addition to performing the play. Some of the actors play multiple roles.
At Coe Elementary, a colorful superhero background graced the stage for the different scenarios presented throughout the production. Multiple props and costumes were used to bring the students at “Asteroid Academy” to life.
One act depicted Tilly, a student with super strength, attempting to navigate the proper way to confront a fellow student who had stolen her “rocket ball.” The students learned that the best way to deal with this situation was to just talk to the person, and if that didn’t resolve the issue, to talk to an adult.
Judging by the squeals of laughter heard throughout the room, students enjoyed every minute of the production.
Afterward, the performers discussed the play with the students in a Q&A session, pointing out examples of bullying within the story. Jeffrey said the discussion is designed to help reinforce the lesson.
During the session students were asked to recount some of the lessons they witnessed in the play. These included counting backward from five when angry and empathizing with others.
Jeffrey noted that the value of these school-wide productions is to provide a “common frame of reference … and shared experience” for the student body, so they can all discuss the same thing.
“We are really hoping that we can start a conversation at the schools,” said performer Adrienne Littleton. “Since we are only here one day during the year.”
She added that they have heard back from schools that have received more reports of bullying after the plays because students feel better prepared to report incidents, which “is great.”
Coe Elementary Principal Tate Loftin, who joined the school in July, said that after talking to parents about their bullying concerns she wanted to make it a priority. Loftin began working with the PTA to get funding for events like the Taproot Theatre presentation.
Loftin said the teachers worked with the students to prepare them for the assembly, in order “to have an impact and really make change in regards to bullying.”
On the evening of the event, parents and guardians were invited for a presentation from Stephanie Thomas of the Seattle Police Department's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force about cyber bullying and how to keep kids safe online.
Later this month, the staff will participate in a training program based on the same issues.
Loftin also plans on reviewing the material from the play at the school’s weekly “Monday Morning Meetings,” which are designed to build community and discuss school-wide events.
Loftin wanted school-wide exposure to anti-bullying techniques not only to see what it’s like to be bullied, but to work on building empathy. Her goal is to have the students who witness the bullying feel empowered to do the right thing and tell an adult.
According to the 2009-2010 behavior report provided by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Education, 2,119 students were suspended and 87 students were expelled for bullying in Washington state.
“You often catch the perpetrator and help the victim, but it’s all those bystanders that don’t act that I want to work with,” Loftin said.