Village residents will gather in the Banyan Bowl at Pinecrest Gardens on Sunday, Feb. 17, for a free screening of the film Bully.
The 2011 documentary follows five students from across the country as they endure varying torment at the hands of bullies. The 6:30 p.m. screening, which serves as the conclusion of A Billion Acts of Kindness Week, Feb. 11-17, will be followed by a panel discussion of both the film and bullying issues in the community. Other activities are on tap, and food and refreshments will be served.
The screening is another step towards eradicating the bullying problem, one that has become inescapable for today’s youth with the advent and widespread use of social media. School counselor Julie Astuto has moved to curb bullying at Palmetto Elementary by using guidelines set by the Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate program.
“In March 2012, we became the first elementary school in Florida to become No Place for Hate,” she says. “We feel that this program has positively impacted our school climate and that the students have benefited from their participation in the program.”
Before the end of the school year, she had enlisted Village Mayor Cindy Lerner, school board member Larry Feldman, fellow counselor Lisa Mallard, bullying prevention expert Kathy Hersh and Melissa Institute staff member Trish Ramsey to form an initiative with the intention of including all Pinecrest schools in the program.
“The goal is to prevent bullying behavior by creating an environment of respect for each other, creating standards of acceptable behavior and by incorporating advanced expectations that all subscribe to,” says Mayor Lerner.
Bullying is a complex problem. Aside from showing the movie and meeting the ADL’s No Place for Hate and Community of Respect requirements, schools are addressing the issue from several other angles. Some projects, such as Peace Week, International Peace Day, and Mix-It-Up, an event encouraging students to step out of their comfort zones and interact with new people, have been put into practice with great success. Courses such as the Reflections Program, Stand Up and Speak Out and Random Acts of Kindness also have done much to move the agenda of acceptance forward.
The No Place for Hate Student Task Force, led by Palmetto senior counselor Lisa Mallard, intends to maintain the momentum. They will hold another course at the school on Feb. 12 focusing on safe dating and positive relationships, participate in a three-kilometer Friendship Circle Walk-a-thon, produce a music video, read books with positive messages to Palmetto Elementary second-graders and have a member on the panel at the Gardens Bully screening.
“Every day, the No Place for Hate Student Task Force comes up with new events that will be implemented in the near future,” says Mallard.
Bullying is a learned behavior and only through efforts involving the entire school system and everyone involved can it be unlearned and eliminated. According to expert Kathy Hersh, the community cannot risk becoming complacent.
“Bullying is a social disease and its cure will require ‘draining the swamp,’ but once we start seeing results, we must keep insisting on respect for everyone,” Hersh says, “After all, isn’t that the kind of community and society we all want to live in?”