Several seniors who will participate in Thursday’s TEAM School graduation exercises have been involved in a unique project addressing bullying and suicide prevention.
Tori Bullard, A’Leah Duncan, Kathryn Hays, Travis Johnson, Brisco Patterson, Destini Sepulveda, Nayanna Simpson and Jordan Weinberg are members of the TEAM School leadership program who have written and presented a series of dramatic monologues at Smith and Wheat middle schools. Their presentations focused on the importance of speaking up against bullying and knowing the warning signs of suicide.
“Speak Up!” centers on a well-adjusted, high-performing student who becomes the target of bullying, with devastating results. The seniors, along with TEAM students Patricia Cotton, Eddie Garcia, Danny Piña and Colby Suratt portray the teachers, friends, family and the best friend who became the bully.
Sepulveda plays her high school’s brightest star, whose light begins to fade under the pressure of cyber bullying. The harassment begins when Sepulveda’s character is moved to the starting position on the basketball team, bumping her best friend down to second string. Those around her either turn away, frustrated by their inability to help, or fail to notice the changes taking place in Rochelle’s demeanor.
“I play the main character, Rochelle, who is a great student, a happy person, someone you would never think would contemplate suicide,” Sepulveda said. “I have that same kind of happy, upbeat personality. I think that’s why they picked me for the role — and I really wanted to do it.
“Just going through the play and being that person has made me more sensitive to others and what is going on in their lives. You need to be careful what you say because it can truly hurt others.”
TEAM School Counselor Heather Brister said the students in the Speak Up! cast were hand picked for the project, which she proposed.
“I saw a play much like this performed by high school kids at a conference,” she said. “I thought, ‘Our kids could do this.’ It was first on the list of things I wanted to see accomplished this year. We hand picked the group we thought would be willing to participate and would do a good job.
“They worked so hard. We have been really proud of them. It was a great opportunity to showcase our kids for a good cause. And I think it gave some of them the opportunity to come out of their shells. It has been a memorable experience for all of us.”
Johnson, who was selected to give the commencement address, played Rochelle’s father in the “Speak Up!” monologues. It was an effort he took very much to heart.
“This has been very important to me,” he said. “I’ve been through depression. It’s also important that we are providing information relating to suicide prevention. Our group has been a great mixture of kids. Everyone has taken this very seriously because we know what we are presenting can have an impact. But we’ve also had lots of fun.”
The presentation was well-received by students and teachers at Smith and Wheat. The TEAM students delivered their message multiple times, and took questions from sixth, seventh and eighth graders after each session.
“I think this was very realistic,” said Wheat eighth-grader Israel Renta. “It happens — it can happen to someone you know. It’s sad how one person can make a big difference — in a negative way. One bad decision can lead to a bad situation for someone else.”
Fellow eighth-grader Kara Johnson said the monologues were inspiring.
“It showed us what can come from bullying,” she said. “If you don’t speak up when you see someone being bullied, there can be a bad outcome. Sometimes it’s frightening to speak up. You might not be confident in doing what you know you should. You might not be sure what will happen to you if you speak up. But I think everyone here knows that you need to say something if you see signs of bullying.”
Nayanna Simpson, who plays the best friend who becomes the bully, said the role was not easy for her.
“It’s hard,” she said. “I’m sweet and nice — and then to play a person who causes a friend to commit suicide — it’s very hard for me. I hope we stop kids from bullying and any one who may be contemplating thoughts of suicide. Kids need to learn to go to the counselor or someone they trust for help instead of taking matters into their own hands. I know I want my brothers and sisters — kids of all ages — to know there’s always somewhere they can get help.”
Every performance ended with each member of the audience receiving a small card containing a hotline number and websites relating to suicide emergencies and the warning signs.
“Everybody, anybody can be a bully or a victim,” Hays said. “Maybe, because of our message, it will click. Maybe someone will realize the harm of words they have said. This is aimed toward everybody. If it helps one person, it’s worth it.”
TEAM School senior Travis Johnson, in the role of a parent, shares his pain at the loss of his daughter to suicide during the “Speak Up!” monologues addressing bullying and suicide prevention. Members of TEAM School’s leadership class presented their message to students at Wheat and Smith Middle Schools in small group sessions throughout the fall.