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Palm Beach County Students See Broward-Based Bullying Play

by Donald Cavanaugh
Friday May 10, 2013

Anti-bullying regulations can be considered imperative at schools, but Palm Beach is also taking a new approach to combat bullying in the county.

The Palm Beach County Action Alliance for Mental Health (the Action Alliance), in conjunction with the Palm Beach County School District Department of Safe Schools, hosted the live performance of "The Weight of Words" on May 2, a 30-minute student created and performed play with music about bullying that has been in use in Broward Schools since 2011.

Kim Williams, assistant director in the Department of Student Intervention Services in Palm Beach County School District, said she had seen the play in Broward and was so impressed that she asked if the students could bring it to Palm Beach.

"It was such a powerful production," said Williams. "I just felt it was important that we bring these students' messages to our schools. This was a good start and we'll build from here."

The program was supported by the Action Alliance whose members managed the logistics such as invitations, handouts, and snacks.

Assistant Superintendent Joseph Lee introduced the program on behalf of the Palm Beach School District. An adult built like a football player, Lee shared his own experience of having been bullied as a youth and emphasized the importance for students to support one another in helping end bullying in schools.

The play, which was attended by some 300-plus students and adults at the Palm Beach Lakes High School Auditorium, was conceived, choreographed, designed and produced by Broward County's Nova High School drama students under the tutelage of Nina Zakrzewski, director of the school's drama department.

"This is all the work of the students," said Zak, as she's known by her students and colleagues. "It's an insight into the other side of bullying - the students' side. They know that words can be as damaging as physical blows. They're just not sure that adults get it."

Zakrzewski retained the services of Lovewell Institute for the Performing Arts who, according to Zakrzewski, have a successful formula for students to use in creating a new work.

"We started developing the play in November 2010 and had our first production in January 2011," added Zakrzewski. "We've presented to more than 30,000 students and adults since then."

In addition to the passion and compassion expressed by the play the students evidenced a certain amount of cynicism about adult responses to student bullying. Elected officials get a particularly bad rap. They are shown paying lip service to the issue of bullying but using the pain of their young constituents to raise money and get re-elected.

Different types of bullying are examined in song and choreographed movement with an emphasis on the murder of a gay male student and the attempted suicide of a female student whose father brow beat her mercilessly to get good grades.
Other victims included a female Muslim student and a young woman who related her experiences of being bullied for being deaf using North American Sign Language while a classmate translated.

At the end of the production an emcee goes through what constitutes bullying, the different kinds of bullying and what students should do if they are the victims or bystanders at an incident.

"We are pleased to be invited to Palm Beach County to share this play," said Amalio Nieves, curriculum supervisor in the Diversity Cultural Outreach and Prevention Office in Broward County. "We look forward to working with Palm Beach and other school districts in the future."

"We're thrilled to have had the opportunity to support this program," Thrasher said. "The mental health issues of students and adults who have bullied are important considerations for this county's Action Alliance for Mental Health. Hopefully more people will be able to attend the next educational event."

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