RIC student uses technology to promote anti-bullying message

Rebecca Ferry
For the typical student, homework assignments don’t add up to much more than a mark in their instructor’s grade books. For Rebecca Ferry, who was completing her MEd in Advanced Studies in Teaching and Learning, a school project turned into a message that resonated with students on a subject that has gotten much attention lately.

Ferry, a science teacher at Barrington Middle School, was tasked in her Instructional Technology class at RIC with creating a project by using technology with or for her students that could plausibly be used in class this past November. Instead of settling for a simple PowerPoint presentation or quick instructional video, Ferry worked with her students to create a moving anti-bullying video that addresses the shocking statistics of modern bullying in the school system.

“I wanted the project to be student-centered,” she said. “At the time, the issue of bullying had come up in the news.”

The video, comprised of still snapshots of the children themselves and superimposed text about bullying and empowering messages, was powerful and moving enough to attract the attention of the entire school, other educational districts, and even a commendation by R.I. Congressman James Langevin.

Ferry, along with her fellow teacher Joe Pirraglia, saw the disheartening headlines: teens across the nation were skipping school, becoming withdrawn and even committing suicide when bullying in the class became too much for them. The statistics are eye-opening: Thirty percent of U.S. students in grades six through 10 are involved in moderate or frequent bullying – as bullies, as victims, or as both – according to the results of the first national survey on this subject.

Connie Horton
“We have kids that are bullies,” Ferry admits, concerning the school environment around her. “This little spark, with me having to do this project for my class, rolled into this whole thing.”

“She is so wonderful with her kids,” said Connie Horton, assistant professor of Educational Studies at RIC, “and she takes no credit, even though she should.” It was in Horton’s class where Ferry was assigned the technology project in question.

Besides the original concept for a video starring the kids, Ferry and Pirraglia had a few other ideas. “We also had this idea for a play,” Pirraglia said. “We ended up writing skits about some of the issues that were going on. Texting, lunchroom behavior, et cetera. And every skit had a lesson at the end of it.”

While Pirraglia worked with one cluster of students to develop the skits, Ferry and her cluster used their school’s computer lab to put together the video.

“I took the students to the lab, at the beginning, to research bullying statistics, and they were floored,” Ferry said. “They were going, ‘Miss Ferry! Look at this statistic! Can you believe this?’”

She said that the students’ grasp of the reality of the situation helped motivate them to complete the project.

In addition to the video and skits, Pirraglia had written a song to go along with the theme of anti-bullying. While he wrote the music and lyrics, it was the students who performed the final version of the song. Using a makeshift choir of kids and a few musically inclined students on instruments, the group recorded the song – and the final version is the music that plays in the background of the video.

Once the entire presentation was complete, the screenings began. The video was shown to the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students in Barrington Middle School shortly before vacation last December, and screened for the children’s parents two days later.

“I was sitting there, crying,” Ferry said of the reaction to the video and presentation. “The parents were crying. It was such a powerful thing these kids had done.”

“I mean, they’re 12!” she added.

The Barrington Middle School students who collaborated on the anti-bullying video.

In all, Ferry and Pirraglia worked with 70 students to create the entire presentation. If a student wasn’t featured in the video or in the song, they acted in the skits.

In addition to the overwhelmingly positive reaction from the school and its community, Ferry’s project has garnered attention from outside her educational circle as well. A guidance counselor from the Franklin, Mass., school system asked to use the video and present it to her administration. The Barrington Middle School administration is pushing for the video to be screened for elementary students. And Congressman Langevin recognized the teachers’ efforts.

“We got a thank you from his office [that read], ‘Thank you for the video, it’s inspiring, it’s a good thing to see forward progress in this state.’ It was nice to hear from them,” Pirraglia said.

Now that the initial din of Ferry’s project has waned, what comes next?

“We presented it to the faculty, and our administration wants things to happen,” she said. “It took a little while to get the ball rolling, but we saw the need to have this done and we did it, but we don’t know where it’s going to go from here.”

Added Ferry: “We’re starting to see some effects of that positive culture change within our school.”

Ferry’s project is an example of educators using technology for good. “It was student-centered,” said Professor Horton, “and all about empowering the students. Technology is just the powerful tool that we can use to convey important messages like these.”

But when all was said and done, did Ferry do well on the assignment?

“Oh, yes,” Horton said with a laugh. “She did. She got an A.”