Windber students take creative stance against bullying
From left, Windber Area High School students Brooke Bango, Taylor Bloom, Erin Valinsky, Kyle Neff and Marley Romano view footage from their student-produced documentary made for the district's anti-bullying program. (Chad Mearns)
It wasn't the first video shown in the program, and it wouldn't be the last. But something about the 15-minute documentary seemed to resonate differently with students, teacher Bill Morrison said.
"The attention was on the screen the whole time," Morrison said. "There were so many things that made them sit and watch this, as opposed to hearing a teacher lecture."
For junior Kyle Neff, the reasons were simple: it was produced by Windber students, for Windber students and with Windber students as the stars.
"It can relate to the high school or the middle school. Everyone was included," said Neff, one of the students who produced the MTV-styled video in Morrison's marketing and multi-media course.
The film followed eight pairs of middle and high school students as they were teamed with a partner who, despite attending the same school, was a virtual stranger.
Together, they were asked to film themselves spending time together in an experiment aimed at proving befriending strangers is easier than bullying them.
"If you're more open to being friends with people from across the school, there's gong to less bullying," said junior Brooke Bango, part of the video production team. "There are less cliques, less ‘I'm better than you' or ‘you're better than me."
The video featured footage of the teams spending time together, as well as individual interviews with participants reflecting on their experiences.
"We didn't want to stage it because we didn't think that would make it as real," Morrison said. "They ended up really having fun, and they learned a lot."
Senior Courtney Petrunak, one of the students featured in the video, said the experience opened her eyes to new friendships.
Petrunak, a basketball player, was paired with a junior member of the wrestling team. Despite their conflicting schedules, she said they were able to find common interests through text messaging and other means.
"I learned that it is not hard to meet new people or start a conversation," she said.
The film also featured a segment on students Joshua Maurizio and Brittany Berkebile, who were not part of the video's experiment but were featured because of the example their friendship sets for others.
"We never talked to each other. We were in different groups of people. I was kind of nerdy, she was popular. We never talked and were never friends," Maurizio said.
Maurizio said he first talked to Berkebile at a party last year, when they discovered their common interest in performing music. The two formed Allegory, a rock band that now hosts weekly shows for teens at the Venue of Merging Arts in Johnstown.
"Now she's like a sister to me," Maurizio said.
Bango said the bullying program has made a gradual impact since it was introduced by the district last year.
"I've noticed over the last year that people are sticking up for other people, and they wouldn't normally do that," she said.
The video, she said, offered a chance for students to discuss the problem in a positive environment.
"If we didn't present it and make people think about it, they would never think about it. They would never do a different action where they weren't bullying somebody."
Morrison admitted that the video was just a single step in changing student attitudes about bullying.
"For anyone to say bullying has been conquered at this school, it never is. But this is to make people aware of it and teach them how to deal with it," he said. "We're trying to put a positive spin on this — be nice to each other, get along, and we won't have (bullying)."