The suicide of Morristown High School freshman Lennon Baldwin earlier this year rocked the community, and brought back into the forefront the question of what can be perceived as bullying and how far some may go to end it.
The connection between that tragedy and the " an anti-bullying program created by students and faculty at Franklin Township High School in Somerset County, is not lost on Greg DiGioacchino, dean of students for Morristown High School. But, bullying goes beyond just one person or situation—it is persistent.
"We're looking to keep this kind of stuff on the forefront," DiGioacchino said of the program, which was created by Franklin Township High School's Applied Theatre program based on 700 responses sent out to students, as well as interviews with adults and mental health professionals. As part of Morristown High School's annual "Week of Respect" during the first week of October, "this seemed like a perfect match for what we're looking to do," he said.
Jennifer Little, drama teacher at FTHS, said her district was looking for her program to explore issues within their community. "One of them was bullying," the eight-year teacher said.
While students from the theatre department, as well as from English and Social Studies, began putting the program together, Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi killed himself after discovering his intercourse with another man had been posted online by his dormmate. "That resonated with us," Little said. "Unfortunately, there are a number of stories."
"Shadows" was performed for the Franklin Township School District. It was suggested they take the program to other nearby districts. And, then, "it was a domino effect," Little said, noting the productions has now been performed in front of at least 30 different groups and was nominated to be performed next summer at an arts festival in Scotland. It won the Golden Bell Leadership Award from the Mental Health Association of New Jersey in 2011 in recognition of its significance as an anti-bullying educational drama.
The production resonates for Anissa Gonzalez, a senior at Franklin Township High School and one of a dozen students performing "Shadows." Taking on multiple roles—a bystander, victim and bully—the 17-year-old has been in all three pairs of shoes.
"This has let me understand how much an effect this has on people," she said. "At first, I thought, 'whatever, it's another play,' but performing I realized the impact it had on others as well as myself."
While Anissa's situations never went further than some light namecalling, "you never really know how they feel when they get home," she said.
"Shadows" also will be performed for students on Oct. 19. DiGioacchino said that it is a student-written and performed production is an important element. "I think they will receive it a little differently," he said.
It has already made an impact on at least one of its performers.
"Bullying really is a nationwide issue," Anissa said. "Just speak out. You never know. You'll feed bad if you don't say anything."