LIMA — As many as one in three students in the United States have experienced bullying, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with bullying most common in middle school.
With that in mind, an Ohio Northern University assistant professor, along with a group of ONU education students, visited a fifth-grade class at Lima’s North Middle School to help them turn their backs on this destructive behavior.
Using a study of the novel “Wonder,” which chronicles the struggles of a young boy with a facial deformity going to public school for the first time, as a springboard for promoting anti-bullying behavior.
“One of the biggest problems in middle school is bullying behavior,” ONU Assistant Professor Kevin Cordi said. “So they’re working on something called ‘ensemble storytelling,’ where they go into the fictional world to discuss the real world.”
Through discussion and role play, students were able to gain greater empathy with the fictional character being bullied, an empathy that Cordi hopes will help foster more positive social interaction among them. Students also talked with each other, learning more about their own backgrounds and experiences .
“These students were amazing,” he said. “As an educator of story, 70 percent of all effective communication is in narrative style. A Croatian saying I told them was, ‘You can never hurt someone once you know their story.’ If you think about that, it’s because we don’t know someone that we create what they’re not and we then get angry for who they are not. We can work to help people when we understand who they are through their stories.”
North Middle School fifth grade language arts teacher Robin Hullinger was gratified to see her students gain a deeper understanding of alternatives to bullying, and she expressed hope that this exercise will reap benefits for them in their future interactions.
“At this age, they still listen to their parents and teachers, but they’re really influenced by their peers’ opinions of them,” she said. “To see them stick up for each other, they know the right things to say, and sometimes it’s just a matter of getting them to act on that and feel like I can stick out my neck a little bit and defend somebody else.”