According to their spring 2010 newsletter, the East Longmeadow Massachusetts public schools’ educational team takes a two-part approach against bullying in all five of their schools:
“Effectively dealing with bullying in schools requires a two-part approach. The first part is to be proactive and educate the student body and staff on how to identify and respond to bullying behavior. The second part is to be reactive and immediately address bullying when it occurs. This can take many forms including confrontation, education of the student doing the bullying, parent involvement, disciplinary consequences, or a combination of these actions”
One of my friends works at the Mountain View, one of the schools in the district, as a paraprofessional, and was asked to lend his hand with the project. The following is an interview about Mike Cady’s perspective on the project.
How did the anti-bullying project begin at Mountain View?
Well, there is a group of fourth and fifth graders at Mountain View School, in East Longmeadow, MA that are called the Explorers. They deal with positive aspects of school life and work on different projects that affect kids.
As a response to the things they saw in the news recently about bullying, they realized it could happen any and everywhere. They decided to come up with a project that would be informative, educational and would grab student’s attention to promote awareness.
The two sponsoring members of the faculty approached me, and asked me if I wouldn’t mind helping them out. I am a part-time freelance artist and musician.
How did the team get started?
The first thing we did was to get the team together for two different evenings. The kids were given carte blanche to do some brainstorming. Then, we talked in general about how we were going to approach this thing. We discussed what we were going to focus on, how we could structure the picture, and then what would the kids coming to our school want to see addressed in a mural.
There were a bunch of sketches that were submitted, with the wording and the basic ideas all generated by the students. At the end of the second meeting, as a team, we narrowed it down to three situations we wanted to address: the playground, cafeteria and on the bus.
Because we were talking about anti-bullying, we needed to have a bully and a bystander that was taking action, and of course, unfortunately, we had to include a victim. Some students voiced concerns about animals or new students being picked on, but the team agreed to focus on general topics that would appeal to more people.
Was there anything that stood out for you, where you said to yourself, “this is really cool?“
What I found to be really educational for these students was how they worked through the issues. The project covered a lot of territory. We had to talk about our subject, our audience, and the impact of what we were doing. We had to be careful not to single out one group or one set of characteristics.
One of the ideas presented was an idea to portray the bystander, who would intervene or take action, as a superhero. After debating it, the team decided it would be more advantageous to have the bystander represented by an everyday character, because that would be more appropriate for the audience we were trying to reach. Taking action sometimes brings upon negative results. Working through this thought process to try and match intent with actions was also an educational experience for everyone.
How did you decide what you would include?
Ultimately, the team decided on three real life situations so there are three panels within the mural. Each panel has a bystander that takes action, a victim, a bully and other bystanders that do not take action.
How did the project work?
Just like in business or in government, our team worked together to create our draft or vision. Once the design was agreed upon by the team, it was presented to the Principal of the school, Carrie Wallace for her approval.
Once approved, that is when I enlarged the drawing into mural size, outlining it on the wall, in black and white. I attached a copy of the colored, finished approved design next to the mural so that we had a visual of what we had agreed on.
For the next few weeks, the Explorers started painting within the outlines according to the accompanied colored plan. All the paint was donated by Theresa Moriarity, the art teacher. The students worked on it as much as they could. After school, I would go by and round out some of the edges, and do touch ups. At one point the local press came and all the kids got their photos taken; we celebrated and it was a lot of fun.
Towards the end of the school year, I put in the final lettering, and when it was done, I had the Explorer team come down. As an artist, I always sign my work but this was a collaborative project and I thought it was really important for them to also sign this work of art. Each of the contributors signed their name to the left and that was a special moment because it left an indelible mark on them and the school, of their participation in this project.
What were the student’s reactions to the mural?
The unveiling happened in stages. Some of it was behind the scenes, then the outline went up, and then the painting started getting done. It was a gradual process so the buzz was somewhat quiet until the end.
First the Springfield and local newspapers came in. Then the principal took a copy of the mural to each individual classroom over a period of about a week to talk to the students about the mural and the types of situations that are considered bullying. Students had great comments and questions.
After she used the introduction mural as a jumping off point to talk to the students, the education team gave all the students an opportunity to comment on their response to the overall impression about the anti-bullying campaign.
These responses were put up in the cafeteria and it was just covered with comments. That was the real celebration; we had achieved our goal – people were aware. The way it was presented and then followed up with the students brought about the biggest amount of interest and response.
Does the school have a policy about bullying?
Well each situation is different. Teachers are obligated by law to report potential physical parental abuse but there is currently no regulation about student-to-student abuse; the schools can elect to bring authorities in if the situation is felt to be out of control. There really is no infrastructure to support this except personal responsibility. Obviously if there is a critical situation, a teacher will intervene, but there are many situations in which a teacher has little to no recourse.
What was the ultimate message of the mural?
To me, the message of the mural is two-fold, as evidenced in the last panel with the boys face, showing two sides or two faces. We can all be victims of bullying, and we can all be bullies without even wanting to be that way. One student said it this way, “Sometimes I wonder to myself, why did I do or say that, it was mean!” Even if we don’t bully, or if we aren’t the victim, if we see others that are being bullied and we don’t take action, that is just not good either.
If we see someone being bullied we should stand up and recognize it as abuse. While retaliation is not the answer, awareness and zero tolerance against bullying are the first steps. As parents and teachers, we need to be aware of the signs and symptoms and not tolerate bullying. It was a positive experience.
What else would readers like to know about Mike Cady
Well during the school year I work as a paraprofessional at the school. In my spare time I am a musician and artist. My work has been displayed throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts in various venues. If people are interested in my work or talking to me, they can contact me through my website at http://www.lampshade2.webs.com.
After school, weekends and in the summers, Mike offers private and camp-type lessons in cartooning, and drawing.
There you have it folks. This is just one example of the positive efforts students, teachers and parents can make against bullying. Great job, East Longmeadow students at Mountain View, and kudos to the education team and the anti-bullying awareness campaign.
Interview with Michael Cady, employee at Mt. View School in East. Longmeadow, MA