As students head back to school, many have prepared themselves with supplies, new clothes, and hours logged with required reading lists over the summer. But some kids may find themselves faced with another challenge back in the classroom: bullying.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice statistics, 28 percent of students nationwide in grades 6–12 experienced bullying in 2011. Artist-educator Lyle Cogen of Merrick, N.Y., aims to stem the tide, however, by touring a one-woman musical, "Sticks & Stones," this fall to help children identify, respond to and prevent bullying behaviors.
"I've been working in schools for many years, witnessing things around me, listening to teachers speak about kids and the challenges that children were feeling," said Cogen. "I started thinking about it so much, that I began developing a character study on bullies."
What began as an idea for an abstract play in 2008 was commissioned by the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice and evolved into a narrative about middle school students facing various forms of alienation.
Sticks & Stones "is about kids seeing dynamics change in friendships, kids seeing things happening and not saying anything, and about how adults react to bullying behaviors in their own children," she said, adding that sometimes the lines get blurred between victims and bullies. "Sometimes when you are a victim of bullying, you can become a big bully yourself. I've seen that play out, where victimized kids turn around and show aggression toward somebody else."
At the end of the 53-minute musical, there is a "talk back" session that gives the audience a chance to reflect on what they've just seen.
"That's the most important part," said Cogen. "The purpose of theater in this context is to create a picture and talk about it. This creates awareness and it's a great springboard for discussion."
Cogen will be touring her musical at theaters and schools in Ohio, Texas and other states across the country this fall. For those who can't attend a performance, she also recently released an album titled "Bully, Bystander, Bullied: Which one are you?" that covers similar topic matter. She urges parents not to let the topic of bullying fall off of their radar.
"Y'know, I get Google alerts on anything related to bullying and it's incredible how many suicides result from children being bullied," said Cogen. "It's important to expand our education to cover these issues more."