Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

September 19, 2013

'Bully' makes powerful impression

Middle schools screening bullying documentary as teaching tool

By Dustin Luca

---- — School officials are looking to a documentary to help drive home the real effects of bullying in a vivid and provocative way.

Last week, Wood Hill Middle School students were the first in town to see Lee Hirsch’s film “Bully” highlighting the struggles that surround victims of bullying.

The shortened, school-appropriate version of the film chronicles two students who are frequently bullied while they are at school, home and in the community — capturing the abuse they endure and how it permeates their lives.

Leaders at West and Doherty middle schools are now considering potential screenings of the film as well.

Wood Middle School Principal Pat Bucco said showing the film to his students created a “reality for the situation.”

“Whenever you talk about it, even if you role-play, in some ways, kids don’t take it as seriously,” Bucco said. “(Bullying) won’t stop unless you’re real about it.”

For some local students, however, bullying has already had an opportunity to become real.

Lauren Hodgman, a 14-year-old Wood Hill student, said she has experienced bullying firsthand.

In her case, Hodgman said support from friends and school staff as she struggled with her situation proved invaluable and ultimately helped her to come out on top.

She was enthusiastic about the screening of “Bully” and the opportunity to share the effects of bullying with her peers in such a dramatic way.

“You can’t prevent bullying — just trying to stop it is good,” she said. “They’re really trying to promote the act of stopping bullying.”

Even though the student version of “Bully” is edited to be appropriate for younger audiences, there are still mature elements to it. At one point, it shows the film crews stepping in and bringing their footage of abuse to school officials and the family of the victim for fear of what might happen next.

The unedited version of the movie, covering such themes as suicide, is more difficult to watch, said Brian McNally, the district’s health and physical education director, who saw the full format at a screening in Washington, D.C., a few years ago. He said he couldn’t come home without it.

“It affected me so much,” he said. “When I came back, in my opening meeting with my health and phys ed teachers, we talked about it and I said, ‘This is the kind of movie every student and teacher needs to see.’”

McNally later arranged for the movie to be shown for school staff at a theater in Danvers after efforts to have it played in Lawrence and Methuen were “fruitless,” he said.

“We felt compelled that it was something we needed to bring into the schools,” he said.

McNally was later able to purchase an “educator’s toolkit” created in conjunction with the film for use at each middle school in town.

After last week’s screening at Wood Hill, school staff incorporated discussions about bullying into their lesson plans for the rest of the week, Bucco said.

“Even in adulthood, (bullying) happens. It unfortunately doesn’t stop in childhood,” Bucco said. “We can make kids aware and if we give them the tools to stop it, we’ll be ahead of the curve.”

The goal, Bucco said, is “to totally eliminate it. How real that is, I don’t know, but the more kids are aware, we’ll eventually come to the dream.”

West Middle students may not have enjoyed the film, but it did capture their attention.

While 12-year-old Belle Haslam found the film “sad and depressing,” she also said it was important.

“I didn’t like it, but it makes people notice what is happening,” she said.

Adam Maagoul, also 12, added after the screening, “That’s not right. People shouldn’t do that stuff,”

Michelle Liu, 11, said what stood out to her most was how the movie “shows aspects of every kind, applying to everyone. It shows how people get bullied every day and what you can do to help.”

For Hodgman, the movie “takes it to a whole new depth, and makes it personal,” she said.

“It’s not fun. It’s traumatizing,” she said. “But it’s good that Andover is taking the steps to prevent bullying any way they can.”