Middle School Kids Look Up To Actors
Published : Tuesday, 08 Mar 2011, 5:17 PM CST by Jim Swift
AUSTIN (KXAN) - When you are 13 years old, you look up when a high school student walks by. You look up at him and you look up to him.
"I remember when I was a kid, if a regular adult was talking to me about this sort of thing [bullying], I'd brush them off," said recent high school graduate Boni Rosales, 19. "But now we're actually kids around their age group and they're actually performing a play and putting visuals in it. I think they pay a little more attention because they sort of look up to us. We're sort of what they're going to turn into."
Rosales is in his first semester at Austin Community College , but he's still a member of the mostly high school student cast of Changing Lives Theatre Ensemble , a group of young thespians put together by Safe Place and the Theatre Action Project.
He and his fellow cast members are touring a play about bullying to local middle schools, home to the raging adolescence that breeds bullies by the boat load.
"The medium through which we're doing it, it's not like we're going to middle schools and just lecturing them," said cast member Jessica Norriss, 16. "It's through real-life plot, which they can hopefully relate to; and then showing them how to stop or how to stand up for themselves or what they need to do, as opposed to, 'This is what you need to do.'"
"They really look up to us," added cast member Kristal Jackson, 17. "Everywhere we go they want to talk to us; they want to high-five us; they want to act like our friends because we're older and we're in high school and they think of us as cool kids because we're older. I really think that they look up to us."
"Their play tells the story of Claire, a new girl in school, who on her first day on campus finds herself in the crosshairs of a jealous girlfriend and her name on the keyboards of virtually every cell phone in school. Vilified and tormented by her new classmates, the girl is reduced to tears, isolated and comforted by only one fellow student, the first boy she met. He's just being friendly, but his jealous girlfriend launches a bully attack on the girl that leads all the way to an 'ihateclaire.com' website.
"Bullying is a very serious problem," said Catherine Flores, a 7th grade counselor at Webb Middle School , one of the stops on the ensemble's tour. "I feel like it was back when I was a student, but I think it's gotten even worse now with MySpace, Facebook, text messages. It's kind of just reached a whole new level."
"A lot of parents, even teachers are unaware of how common it is," said Flores, the counselor. "I talk to kids about this weekly, daily sometimes. A lot of fights are now starting via the Internet or text messages or phones. The impact of bullying is huge on kids. It affects their self-esteem. Sometimes they're scared or nervous to go to school and that's the last place that you want a kid to be scared to go to; that's where they need to feel safe.
But more and more adults are listening, including the managing artistic director of the ensemble, Susie Gidseg.
"When my students come in and talk about cyber bullying, kids that have never even thought that what they were doing was wrong kind of have an 'Ah-hah' moment,"she said. "And to us, that's what we're trying to get to, to get the active bystanders to stand up and speak out and help people."
By plays end, Claire has stood up for herself and confided in her father about the bullying she suffered. A wave of understanding moves through the make-believe students played by the real ones. Apologies are offered and accepted.
"They realize it's not cool; we're hurting this person," said Jackson. "The people in the play are getting hurt."
She thinks about the middle schoolers in the audience and imagines one of them saying, ' Maybe this person I'm picking on is getting hurt, too.' And they're realizing they can do something about it."