When it comes to bullying, bystanders make the difference.
So says a group of Beaufort High School drama students who plan to take their anti-bullying show, "If You See Something, Say Something," on the road this weekend to Myrtle Beach.
School drama director LaRaine Fess and her troupe performed their play throughout Beaufort County for all sixth-graders earlier this year and plan to continue spreading their message with the help of Rotary.
Local Rotarians helped distribute bracelets and brochures about bullying to remind students to speak up when they see bullying. Both contain the district's toll-free anti-bullying hotline numbers, 843-322-2435 or 866-611-1102. Students can also email email@example.com.
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Word spread to other Rotary organizations in the state, which will see the play Saturday during the Eastern S.C. Rotary Convention.
Afterwards, students will participate in a question-and-answer session, which will include a discussion of ways the show could serve as a model for statewide Rotary Clubs programs, Fess said.
Fess' son was bullied on a school bus by a middle school student last year, but waited a week before saying anything.
"I couldn't understand why, so I asked my drama students, 'Why would he keep this from me?' " Fess said. "We had a lot of open and honest discussions about bullies, and started writing a play to inspire bystanders to be a friend and to tell the victims it will get better."
Already, students have received letters, emails and voice messages from Beaufort County middle school students saying the play has changed their perspective on bullying. One said the show prompted her to reflect on her own bullying, and she has since been reformed.
"It's heartwarming to see how much of a difference we're actually making," said senior Angy Chancay, 17, who encourages students not to tolerate victimhood. "Don't accept someone else's definition of you; define yourself."
For senior Chris Holloway, 18, the play turned into an opportunity to step into his brother's shoes -- playing a student with cerebral palsy who is bullied over his disability.
"I've seen the effects of bullying and it really hits home for me," Holloway said.
For others, like Chancay, the show provided catharsis -- an opportunity to come to terms with being bullied. Like her character, she struggled with nasty comments about her weight but has come out on top.
At times, though, she too has played the part of the bully -- on and off the stage -- sometimes without realizing it.
"People forget what they think is a funny joke can be very hurtful and damaging," Chancay said. "I'm more aware of that now. I catch myself, and am more willing to speak up when I see bullying."
The Beaufort County School District redoubled efforts to end bullying in 2011 after a video of brutal fight in a Hilton Head High School locker room reduced some veteran educators to tears.
Recorded by four other students, images of the beating showed a teen being punched and kicked while others cheered on the attacker.
As difficult as the scenes were to watch, there was one more thing that troubled the school officials who saw them: Those filming the victim did nothing to stop the pummeling.
About 85 percent of students don't report bullying when they see it, district officials told the Board of Education at a meeting following the fight.
People tend not to help victims in dire situations when others are present, experts say. The more people present, the less likely someone will help.
But simply teaching children about that effect can increase their willingness to help, according to Patricia Hawley, a psychology professor at the University of Kansas whose research focuses on aggression and social competence in children.
Fess ends the play by invoking Martin Luther King Jr.'s call to end to end racial segregation, asking: "Who will take up for the little guy who is too scared to take up for himself?"
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.