'Bully' screening at Columbia youth summit moves students, parents

Thursday, January 30, 2014 | 7:06 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Tears filled the eyes of some parents and educators Wednesday evening as they watched "Bully" at Columbia College.

The documentary about bullying in the lives of five students was shown as a supplement to an annual UMatter two-day youth summit that takes place in Columbia public middle schools. The free screening was intended to benefit parents and education staff but was also open to the public.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, middle school students participated in assemblies and smaller sessions led by teachers. Topics included substance abuse, suicide prevention, and healthy and positive decision-making by young people.

UMatter was started by Columbia Public Schools to provide information and resources about the effects of drugs and alcohol use. The organization also raises awareness about other social issues such as bullying and dating violence.

The purpose of screening the film was to "open up the door for discussion," district spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said. The screening was sponsored by UMatter, Columbia Public Schools, Columbia College and the Youth Community Coalition.

A panel discussion mediated by Teresa VanDover, associate professor of education at Columbia College, was held after the film. The panel included six representatives of MU, Columbia College and Columbia Public Schools.

The documentary evoked strong emotions from students and parents, and the discussion gave them a chance to voice their questions and concerns about bullying and other social issues.

Panelist Carla London, supervisor for student and family advocacy in the district, was disturbed by the film.

"We want better for our kids," London said.

Another panelist, Sara Tyler, a crisis counselor at Oakland Middle School, said bullying has three criteria:

  • The behavior is intended to cause harm (physical or emotional).
  • The behavior is repetitive.
  • The behavior creates a power position between the two parties, or the behavior gives the bully power over the victim.

(These criteria and other resources can be found on Tyler’s blog.)

Panelists answered questions about integrating bullying awareness into the curriculum, the bus culture and giving kids the skills to deal with the situation at hand.

One mother, Andrea Fischer, attended the film so she could educate herself about what her children would face in the future.

"I have two elementary-aged children in Grant Elementary, and that school is a tight-knit school so I don’t think bullying is a problem there," Fischer said.

A portion of the film focused on the violence and bullying that occurs on school buses. Fischer, whose children will ride the bus later, had a particularly emotional response to that.

"The bus needs a monitor present," she said. "The bus acts as an incubator for problems."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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