Children willing to stand up to a bully may be more powerful than they realize.
"They can succeed in 10 seconds," said Jim Porter, a mental health counselor from Gainesville whose research in the subject is the basis for an anti-bullying program called Hands On Hero.
Porter and his partner, Steve Turner of Giving Tree Music, on Monday gave students from five Pasco County schools a taste of their program, which includes a mixture of drumming, theater, rap, audience participation and a message they hope the students take to heart.
Porter calls it "hero training." A hero, he said, is someone who tries to stop bullying and befriends those who are victims of bullies.
"You don't have to get physical to save somebody from bullying, but you do have to get involved," he told the students who gathered in the gymnasium at Smith Middle School.
The Hands On Hero program encourages students to let bullies know their behavior is "not cool." It urges students to develop strong friendship groups so they can help each other stand up to bullies.
"Your friends determine your behavior," Porter said.
The children also were told to turn to adults, such as their parents or teachers, when the encounter a bully. The adults were told to take the reports seriously. It was a message delivered to the accompaniment of plenty of hand clapping, foot stomping and drum pounding. Playing drums with Turner were several teenagers from Riverside Academy in Tampa, a Department of Juvenile Justice facility.
Turner hailed those teens as young people who made bad choices, but are now turning their lives around.
At opportune moments throughout the production, eager students were recruited to participate in the pandemonium on the gymnasium floor.
Two Smith Middle School teachers - Carrie Grace and Frank Fischer -- also joined the fun for a piece of participatory theater with a gender-bending twist. Fischer portrayed a princess and Grace donned a Viking helmet to play the hero come to rescue him from a bullying villain.
The play wasn't about one hero standing up to a bully, though. Bit by bit, the hero recruited backup heroes until the end when every student in the gymnasium joined forces to tell the bully, "That's not cool."
In the midst of all the fun, Porter didn't shy away from the more sobering aspects of bullying. Victims sometimes resort to violence, against others or themselves, he said.
"Thoughts of homicide and suicide do go through the minds of people who are bullied," he said.
The issue has been prominent in the news over the last few months. Since July, at least five teenagers across the country killed themselves after enduring bullying. In those cases, the bullying was related to sexual orientation.
"Bullying causes the hallucination in your mind that the world is against you," Porter said.
That's why it's important for victims to develop a cadre of friends and for "heroes" to befriend those who are being bullied, he said.
Students who attended Monday's program were sixth graders from Smith Middle and fifth graders from Gulfside Elementary, Gulf Trace Elementary, Locke Elementary and Sunray Elementary.
Those four elementary schools feed into the middle school. Ghelder Arriaga, media specialist at Sunray Elementary, said that by bringing together the sixth graders with the fifth graders, the schools hope the students will bond and be launched together on the path toward combating bullying.
"I think it's something we need to address early in the school year," Arriaga said.
More information is about the Hands On Hero anti-bullying program is available at .
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