Every single day, 160,000 students skip school for fear of being bullied. ImpACT on Stage is working to change that.
As students living in an increasingly complex world, we are inundated daily with information trying to help us become smarter, kinder, better, [insert adjective here]-er people. Unfortunately, most of the time such attempts prove unsuccessful. We sit through presentation after presentation from psychologists or police officers preaching to a choir of disinterested faces slyly checking Twitter on their iPhones and anxiously awaiting their mass exodus to the cafeteria once the lunch bell rings. The goals of the presentations are often noble causes: reducing drunk driving, increasing mindfulness, perhaps even preventing bullying. And yet, their messages go unheard as students turn their focuses away from black-and-white PowerPoint presentations to the much more engaging world of social media and Buzzfeed listicles.
Thus, the logical question follows: how do we talk to students about important issues when they don’t seem to be interested in talking?
For me and my organization, ImpACT on Stage, the answer comes not only in a novel approach to engaging students, but also in altering the question itself; instead of thinking about how to talk to students, we focus on talking with students, sparking meaningful conversations that are relevant, relatable, and interesting for all involved.
So just what is ImpACT on Stage, and how did it get started?
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, ImpACT on Stage’s mission is to promote and enact social change through the use of live theater, by students for students. Through a variety of interactive, in-your-face performance assemblies in schools and community centers, student ‘ImpACTors’ share stories of bullying and tolerance of diversity with fourth through twelfth graders, helping participants become more aware of what constitutes bullying behaviors and feel more confident advocating for themselves and for their peers in bullying situations. Additionally, ImpACT provides partner schools with a proprietary pre- and post-program curricula, tied to the Common Core Standards, that ensures such dialogues continue in the schools long after our program has concluded.
ImpACT’s program is unique in a variety of ways, perhaps most importantly in that it engages the peer-to-peer model not just in its implementation in schools, but also in the leadership and management of the overall organization. ImpACT was founded in 2014 by a then–high school senior and remains to this day run primarily by high school and college students. Each year, ImpACT is fortunate to partner with more and more schools and receive more and more financial and logistical support from organizations like NSHSS.
ImpACT recognizes that, as much as we may try, we will never be able to fully-eradicate bullying in schools. That’s why the main focus of our program isn’t the bully or the target, but rather the bystander--someone who sees a bullying situation take place, knows it’s wrong, and yet isn’t quite sure how to get involved in a safe and effective way. By working with ImpACT on Stage, bystanders learn specific tools and strategies they can employ to act as UpStanders and stand up for their friends and peers.
So what can you do to make an impact during National Bullying Prevention month?
As a nonprofit organization, of course we’re always appreciative of donations that help us further this important cause. But beyond that, I urge you to sign our UpStander pledge and promise to stand up for those involved in bullying situations whenever possible. Finally, join the conversation on social media, and share a photo or selfie with the hashtags #MakeYourImpACT, #BullyingPreventionMonth, and #NSHSS to show your support for the cause.
Standing up to bullying doesn’t have to be the grand gesture we often imagine it is… sometimes, simply sending someone a message to let them know that you’re thinking of them can have a profound effect on someone’s experience. There may be hundreds of reasons why not to stand up in a given situation, but there’s always one reason you should: it’s the right thing to do. Join ImpACT on Stage, be an UpStander, #MakeAnImpACT.
Jacob Gardenswartz, an NSHSS member, is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying Communications and Public Service and Nonprofit Management. Originally from San Diego, California, Jacob won the NSHSS Abercrombie and Fitch Anti-Bullying Scholarship in 2014 and has been featured in two A&F anti-bullying video-campaigns. For more information about ImpACT on Stage or to get involved with the organization, check out the website or email Jacob at email@example.com.
The NSHSS Foundation is now accepting applications for Hollister Co. Anti-Bullying Scholarship 2016.
This $2,500 NSHSS scholarship, is awarded to outstanding students who have academically persevered while experiencing bullying and for those who have led anti-bullying efforts in their schools and communities. The scholarship is renewable for up to three (3) years following the scholarship winner’s freshman year, depending on the student’s academic progress and continuing in full-time student status. Deadline: February 1, 2016. High school seniors with a minimum GPA of 3.0 are eligible.