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'Bully' premieres Monday on PBS: How are educators using it as a resource?

Monday, the documentary 'Bully' makes its way to television audiences. The 2011 film has become a training tool for parents and educators aiming to end bullying violence, but it takes more than just watching the film to create a lasting impact.

Tonight, Lee Hirsch’s film “Bully” will have its television debut on the PBS series “Independent Lens,” giving parents, educators, and community leaders an opportunity for a refresher on breaking the cycle of frustration when dealing with bullies on and off school grounds.

The screening falls in the midst of National Bullying Prevention Month, and during a new Mayors Campaign to End Bullying, a joint project of The US Conference of Mayors and The Bully Project.

“This month more than 200 Mayors in nearly all 50 states will host screenings of the film 'Bully' and convene strategy sessions with key stakeholders to create ongoing, city-wide bullying prevention initiatives,” according to The Bully Project's website.

Recommended: Top 5 bullying myths

The film’s director, Lee Hirsch, said in a phone interview that part of the mission of The Bully Project is to reclaim the lost instructional value of school days, which he feels is lost for those kids who are bullied in school.

For instance, my own son Quin, age 10, tends to have days consumed by trips to the nurse, school counselor, and other school administrators offices as a result of being bullied.

While our local school district is not among those across the country participating in this month’s anti-bullying campaign, district officials have confirmed that administrators are trained using bits of the film.

“During the a Discipline Equity Training for all administrators during the 2013-2014 school year, excerpts from the film 'Bully' were used in the breakout session on bullying for discussion and training,” wrote Elizabeth Thiel Mather, spokesperson for Norfolk Public Schools.

She adds, “The year the film came out [2011], the Department of Student Support Services gave away tickets to the movie as part of our training on bullying.”

“Additionally, last school year every student received Anti-Bullying Tip cards," Ms. Mather responded in an email. "We also have the Anti-bullying/Safe Schools Hotline, the Safeschools email address, as well as anti-bullying posters, with the telephone number and web address in every school. Administrators were provided a Tool Kit that included step-by-step instructions for bullying investigations and a folder with anti-bullying activities and information. During Discipline Equity Training in August, all administrators were given a copy of the ‘Model Policy to Address Bullying in Virginia Public Schools,’ as well as other related information.”

When I asked Hirsch during a phone call why, despite his school using the film for training, my son is still be a target for bullies, Hirsch surprised me by by responding, “Just because someone says they have an anti-bullying program in place, doesn't mean [anything] if its not manifesting itself in the environment. After watching the film, communities, not just the schools, have to really spend time to workshop the problem.”

Parents, crossing guards, cafeteria workers, teachers, and community leaders all have to buy in, watch the film, and get into this mix in order to make it work. If a school is shutting any of those stakeholders out of the process, bullying isn’t going to leave the building.

According to Hirsch, training time for school administrators and staff is at such a premium that anti-bullying training can become very “formulaic” and all too lacking in substance as a result.

Hirsch said that encouraging educators, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers and parents to watch the film – either tonight or at a later screening via Netflix or DVD – is just “step one” in the process of engaging, educating, and building an effective anti-bullying campaign in a community.

I suggest that stakeholders in the anti-bullying conversation sit through the entire film and then follow up by going to the comprehensive website that accompanies the film, which is filled with links, videos, and worksheets to help make the film something more than just a glancing blow to bullying.

Then we need to follow Hirsch’s suggestions and work to “change a culture of bullying inside and outside schools.”

I told Hirsch about Quin’s recent bullying experience and the fact that the cafeteria lady is often our son’s greatest advocate and rescuer.

“That lunch lady is the one who should be at that table training and watching the film as a full team member,” Hirsch responded. “The underpinnings of the big ‘What’s wrong,’ need to be looked at. It’s much more than just spending that hour and thirty-eight minutes screening the film.  [It’s] pairing a screening with taking the right actions and steps at the right moment that are ultimately important in this community process.”

It’s important for communities to understand, as the film explains, that kids as young as age 11 and as old are committing suicide as the result of bullying.

This is a lesson we need to learn together so that all our children can go to school to learn something beyond what it takes to get through the day without being bullied.

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