Youngsters learn filmmaking to put bullying in the spotlight

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WENATCHEE -- The students' enthusiasm shocked the veteran teacher.

"There was really just an absolute transformation in the kids," said Susan Cox. "Kids who don't participate in class were wanting to be lead actors; kids who never speak up were now wanting to be an assistant director, and kids who are shy and quiet are taking on lead roles."

Prompting all this activity were three anti-bullying advocates who were in the classroom to help the Pioneer Middle School seventh-graders script and film a one-minute segment aimed at showing people how bullying can hurt people.

When finished, it will be distributed as a public service announcement to TV stations in the Northwest, and will be on YouTube.

The students did all the acting and all the production activities except for the final editing. That meant kids' yelling, "Quiet on set"; kids' positioning the actors; kids' running the camera, and kids' holding long-handled microphones and light screens.

One person who wasn't surprised at the students' enthusiasm was Mike Feurstein, the New York filmmaker who was in town to work with students in local schools, including in Wenatchee and Cashmere. He will work with students in Quincy the week of April 29.

"Kids are natural storytellers, and they really like using technology and, here, there's technology all over the place."

Nancy Tedeschi of East Wenatchee paid for Feurstein's time. The inventor of the SnapIt eyeglass screw is donating much of the money for the local filmmaking. She said she has donated $25,000 for all the projects, including ones in New York.

School districts are also chipping in some money. In Wenatchee, the district is paying $2,500.

"Bullying is the root of a lot of other issues," said Ron Brown, the district's director of instructional technology. "If it isn't dealt with, we might see things later like expulsions, suspensions and fights. We want to give kids coping skills and be more proactive to the problem that has been around forever."

Also part of the anti-bullying campaign is East Wenatchee resident Lisa Bradshaw. Her nonprofit organization, the Don't Wait Project, is another filmmaking sponsor.

Tedeschi said she plans to make more films in Wenatchee area schools next year.

Each classroom spent three days on their project. During the first day, the students talked about bullying experiences they have had or seen, and ways to handle those situations. They also brainstormed their film plot.

On the second day, Feurstein, Tedeschi and Bradshaw worked with the students on their script. On the third day, the students filmed their project.

In Wenatchee, Cox's seventh-graders were one of three classes doing filmmaking. The others were at WestSide High School and a second-grade class at Columbia Elementary School.

The classes were selected based on student essays, written about bullying. In Cox's class, the winning essay writer was Diana Rios.

"Bullying comes in many forms," Diana said during a break in filming. "It can be verbal and physical. It's best to stop it before it gets any further so it doesn't lead to suicide and stuff."

Robey Jorgensen plays the main bully in the seventh-grade film.

"I never knew, before we did this story, that bullies sometimes don't realize they were bullying other people," he said. "Sometimes they're doing it because they are scared or to fit in and be cool."

Maks Ballard plays another bully. "This just makes me want to stop it more," he said. "I've been bullied before but helping with bullying, and knowing it will get out to a lot of people, should help a lot of kids."

Mandi Ecalbarger plays the main lead, one of three girls who get bullied. She said she thinks she might have bullied other kids in the past but "I honestly didn't think I was hurting them. I just thought they were messing around with me, too."

She said she has learned, through the anti-bullying campaign, that "it's not OK to bully and when you see something like that happening, you go tell someone and make sure the bully stops."

Cox said she thinks her students came away from the filmmaking project with a sense of purpose.

"They feel like, 'I stepped up and did something special today, and I did it well and I mattered,'" she said. "This has really lifted them up. It will be the highlight of their year."