Using Shakespeare To Combat Bullying In Colorado Schools

Mar 26, 2015

Actors Sarah Adler, left, Ben Griffin, center, and Bethany Talley perform "Twelfth Night" at Paonia Elementary School.
Credit Laura Palmisano / KVNF

Bullying is still an ongoing issue and telling kids to be nice to each other isn't always enough. That's why educators are getting creative.

In Colorado, some schools are using Shakespeare to get kids talking about violence and bullying and what they can do to prevent. 

More than 120 students are sitting on the gymnasium floor of Paonia Elementary. 

These third through sixth graders are here to see a play. 

"We are actors with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival," the performers say to their young audience. "And we’ll be performing Shakespeare’s comedy “Twelfth Night”".

For many of these kids, this is their first time experiencing Shakespeare.

"We’d like you to be on the lookout anytime you see a character bully another character," actor Sean Scrutchins says to the children. 

Actor Sean Scrutchins performing in "Twelfth Night".
Credit Laura Palmisano / KVNF

The play, which is full of insults, backstabbing and violence, is a good fit for an anti-bullying campaign.

After the performance, each actor heads to a different classroom for a workshop on violence and bully prevention. This program is a partnership between the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and the University of Colorado Boulder's Center for Study and Prevention of Violence.

Actor Ben Griffin is facilitating the workshop for about 30 sixth-graders. To start he defines bullying.

"And the Center for Study and Prevention of Violence says there are three parts," Griffin says. "The first part is the intention to harm either physically or emotionally. The second part is that it’s repeated over time and it often escalates and the last part is that there's a power imbalance." 

Students Cristina Rankin, back turned, Cole Jordan, left, Zander Sweezey, center, and Olivia Tyan, right, perform a skit from "Twelfth Night" during the violence and bully prevention workshop.
Credit Laura Palmisano / KVNF

In the workshop, the kids talk about the bullying they saw in the play and the bullying they see and experience in real life. 

"Bully is bad because it doesn't make people feel the greatest and it’s not really okay to do that to people" 12-year-old Allison Godwin says. 

The students also discuss what they can do to prevent violence and bullying in their school.

"We are the oldest in the school" 11-year-old Abby Reedy says. "And the younger kids, they look up to us and we need to set a good example so they know how to act when they are in our grades."

Griffin says the goal of the program is to change how kids think about and address bullying.

"Something we try to impart to the students is even though there are negative things around you can still try to make your climate a positive climate for everybody and make it more safe and included," he says.