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Updated: Thursday, 13 Sep 2012, 6:57 PM CDT
Published : Thursday, 13 Sep 2012, 6:29 PM CDT
In their wake, they left behind a changed culture at their former elementary campus.
“There is a new high of morale on this campus,” said Eanes Elementary language arts teacher Ki-Mi Fields, “not only with our teaches, but our students are buying into this.
“And we've got this beautiful system in place now and I just think that there's going to be some wonderful, cool things to come out of this from these two kids who took on a challenge on their own.
"And that's what I'm most grateful for because it's leaving a legacy here at Eanes.”
What the children did was dig deep into their own bag of creativity to produce a music video aimed at bullying, not at bullies exclusively and not at their victims either, but rather at the vast majority of their classmates who didn’t fall into either category. The target was the kids who enable bullying by simply standing by and letting it happen.
It started when Fields told her fifth graders about a contest that called for students to use creative approaches to help contain a long-standing and deep-rooted history of bullying in U.S. schools.
“I told my class and then they were on their own,” said Fields. “And from there, next thing I know it, I get a call from one of my parents saying, 'Hey, my daughter and friend have written a song,' you know, 'is it too late for the contest?'
“And it was too late for the contest, but because it was one of the most coolest things that I'd seen in a long time, I said, 'We've got to do something with this.'”
The little bit of a scratch thing
The song, called, “Lend a Hand,” first took shape as a recording, with the help of Alethia’s mother and uncle.”
“We did a little bit of a scratch thing and Mom did it on piano,” said Alethia. 'It was kind of cheesy,' my uncle said and so she got mad,” the girl laughed.
“And so he said we wanted to make it like fun sounding and, you know, groovy for everybody to hear and, you know, we made into that.”
Then, at Eanes Elementary, the administration got behind the project and Alethia and London found dozens of fellow fifth graders who wanted to join in.
Then broadcast journalism department students at nearby Westlake High School were called in to shoot the music video. They rolled their cameras while the younger kids marched across the campus, singing the lyrics that urge children to stop turning their heads away from bullying at school and to lend a hand instead.
"It's all about the bullying,” the students rap in the song, “don't even know where to begin. You think it's just a game but you're the only one that's playing it.”
Then the rap gives way to soaring lyricism as they sing, “Together there's strength in friends.”
“It was meant to be student-centered,” said Fields, the teacher. “It was never about the adults. It was about Alethia and London's vision of what it meant to lend a hand to one another and to stop bullying and not stand on the sidelines, being a bystander, but saying, 'No,' to the bullies.”
That message rose up from deep within the children’s own experience.
“These guys kept chasing me,” Alethia recalled, “and pulling my shirt and stuff and kept calling me names, yeah, just a couple of years ago. And I kept telling the teacher and they wouldn't stop.”
In London’s case, it was the deeply painful experience of watching his first-grade brother pushed around.
“One of his friends actually told the teacher about it,” said the boy. “That's when they finally learned about it.
“I felt a little mad,” London went on, struggling to keep his composure, “because it's my brother and I just thought it was really mean for these kids to think they're better than him, just because he's smaller and weaker.”
The children, joined by their classmates turned that hurt into energy and the impact on the school was palpable.
“It united us,” said Fields, “united our fifth grade team for last year.
“And some friends that had treated other kids not so nicely, they were waking up to what it was like to be the bully and to see how they were hurting their friends around them.
“And from that, there was a time of, you know, 'I'm sorry; I'm sorry for hurting you,' and it really brought us together in a way that I'd never seen before with kids.”
This year, administrators and faculty are building on that success with a new outreach program the named “Lend a Hand,” in homage to the song. The program uses the image of a hand and it’s five fingers to drive home the importance of values on campus.
“Through our 'Lend-a-Hand' program,” Fields said, “we're teaching them respect, integrity, safety, responsibility and acceptance, especially the acceptance of one another, acceptance of our differences.”
Looking back on the effort the two sixth graders marvel at life’s possibilities in a way that perhaps most of their peers have yet to grasp.
“I felt like I had made a difference,” said London. “I feel good about that.”
“I think that (the video) probably inspired a lot of people,” Alethia added. “And I heard that Eanes actually adopted it, like the theme of the school. So I'm thinking that it will be a better place for a lot of people who are in elementary school.
“It feels great, you know, to be a leader and to show other people that it's not good to be a bully or that it doesn't feel good to be bullied at all.”
Coincidentally, as they spoke, a new study from Sam Houston State University reported that when you include bystanders refusing to intervene, some 89 percent of U.S. school students are involved in bullying.
In a statement released by the university, researcher Dr. Chad Rose, an assistant professor of special education, said, “We have to empower the majority to influence the minority. I don’t believe our students want to stand around and watch bullying, let alone reinforce it, but I don’t think they are equipped with prevention strategies.
“It’s our responsibility as educators to tell these students what to do and what to say and let them know how we will handle the situation.”
Or, instead, perhaps the professor should just pay a visit to a couple of 11-year-old children at Hill Country Middle School in Austin, Texas, and ask them to lend a hand.
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