NAUGATUCK — Chelsea Maza and Mason Cabanas, both juniors at Naugatuck High School, stood on a stage Friday in the City Hill Middle School auditorium and asked nearly 300 eighth-graders what they thought of bullying.
“I think of something that’s happened to me … a lot of times, and I’m really sick of it,” one boy said when handed the microphone.
For that reason, Maza and Cabanas brought their presentation, called “Crossing the Line,” to the middle school Friday morning, first as an assembly for seventh-graders, and then for eighth-graders.
Students from the middle school’s drama club and student council worked with the high-schoolers to create a series of skits, songs, dances, videos and slide shows to teach their peers about bullying and its consequences.
In one clip from “Phineas and Ferb” on the Disney Channel, former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield trains the cartoon character Phineas to fight the class bully. Students were asked to identify the bully, the victim, bystanders and the victim’s ally.
In another video, middle-schoolers held up cards with harmful stereotypes scrawled across them: Stuck-up, Jock, Loser, Idiot, Loner.
“A number of students from your middle school felt that this was a problem,” Maza told the crowd.
Some re-enactments focused on teen suicide as a result of bullying. In one, a girl almost slits her wrists as a former friend, posing as her crush, insults her on Facebook. In another, two teenage girls kill themselves after they are teased for being lesbians.
The eighth-graders were asked to raise their hands if they had seen bullying in specific locations around the school. Almost everyone raised their hands to report they had seen bullying in the halls and on school buses.
Cabanas, 17, and Maza, 16, said they hoped the assembly would be as successful as it was at the high school, where it gained fame after it was presented in January to sophomores. Students were invited to tell stories of being bullied, moving each other to tears, and their antagonists apologized, the teens said. Everyone present fingerprinted a pledge to be an ally for victims.
Since then, the climate at the high school has noticeably changed, Cabanas said.
“Teachers have come up to us and said, ‘Thank you for doing this,'” Cabanas said.
Maza and Cabanas created the program as a project for DECA, the school’s marketing club, after watching a student be verbally attacked in the hallway last November.
“Mason and I thought it was ridiculous how many students were walking by as if it was a normal thing,” Maza said.
They presented their efforts in DECA’s national competition last month in Salt Lake City; they have yet to hear whether they won anything.
Eighth-graders Madison Jensen and Theresa Montoni helped host Friday’s assembly, which did not include story sharing or the thumbprint pledge.
Those will be saved for two years, when the students might see the assembly again, Cabanas said.
“We felt that if we did it now, they wouldn’t feel so much as sophomores,” Cabanas said.