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By Katrina Drew

SHIRLEY — What do you do if someone calls you a name? What do you do if you see someone being unkind or hurting someone else? What do you do if you know you have been a bully?

These are just a few of the questions raised by nationally known performer Lyle Cogen during a recent presentation for the third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders at the Page Hilltop School.

During the two drama-based, interactive performances, the students explored the points of view of the target, the bystander, and the bully before deciding which of these roles they may have played in their lives. “I really challenge kids to be change makers,” Cogen said. “And I hope that they learn that they really have the power to bring about change.”

The Page Hilltop PTO and the Ayer Shirley Education Foundation (ASEF) funded this important program titled “Sticks and Stones.” “Anti-bullying programs may be outside of the academic curriculum, but they are crucial to the school experience,” said ASEF Co-President Maureen Kilcommins. “This is the kind of program we exist for. We want to provide opportunities for the whole student, not just the academic student.”

Betsy Dolan, Page Hilltop’s guidance counselor, was thrilled that these two agencies were able to fund this anti-bullying program. “This was a valuable way for our upper elementary students to continue their education about what is a bully, victim, bystander, and ally, in a fun, interactive production which involved not only Lyle’s performance but also a high percentage of student participation,” Dolan said. “Many students have already asked me ‘When can we have Lyle come back to our school?'”

Cogen, who lives in Long Island, N.Y., used songs and theatrics to drive her point home. “I think programs like this are so critical because there is an abundance of meanness in society,” Cogen said. “Meanness goes unchecked and it is easy to believe it’s someone else’s problem. I want to show kids how being mean affects other kids so that their own behavior can change.” Cogen added, “Every child can make a difference.”

But how do you make a difference? One major change method is to mobilize the world’s bystanders. “If children told the adults in their lives about bullying or mean interactions, the world would be a better place,” noted Cogen.

Towards the end of the assembly, Cogen explained that bystanders are not innocent. During a discussion with the kids, it was identified that adults might take “telling about bullying” as tattling and that the messenger would get in trouble. Cogen reinforced that this was “reporting,” not “tattling.” Her parting thoughts will hopefully inspire niceness, not meanness, at Page Hilltop.

“What if we stood up for people? What if we were other people’s allies? What if everyone was nice? What kind of change agents could we be?”

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