Hundreds of middle schoolers lined up on the La Cañada High School football field Friday morning in a series of indecipherable curves. They joked and squirmed, occasionally breaking form until the near-deafening sound of helicopter blades overhead stopped them in their tracks.
“Guys, hands to your sides for now,” shouted LCHS 7/8 Principal Ryan Zerbel through a megaphone.
The helicopter hovered low as someone inside it captured the scene below on film. The shutter snapped on “LCHS 7/8” spelled out in chatty girls and boys above a peace sign, also writ large in student bodies.
When attempting to impart to seventh- and eighth-graders important messages about preventing bullying on campus through trust and relationship-building, it helps to have a few attention-grabbing tricks up your sleeve.
This was something members of La Cañada’s Girl Scout Troop 4771, who planned the flyover as the grand finale of a school-wide anti-bullying campaign at LCHS 7/8, now know as fact. The weeklong program they planned with the cooperation of Zerbel, countless parents and more than 30 community sponsors, culminated Friday morning with a special assembly featuring live music and a keynote address by young actor Calum Worthy.
Worthy, who plays Dez on the Nickelodeon TV show “Austin & Ally,” spoke frankly about how his budding acting career prevented him from forming solid friendships in school.
“The difference between the best day of my life and the worst day of my life was one person talking to me and bringing me into their circle,” Worthy confided.
He suggested students make lunchtime one big party and be kind to one another, because “the only time you’re uncool is if you make fun of someone or put someone down.”
With bookend performances from Northeast L.A. band the Slightlys, the program included a video presentation depicting stories of teens who died or committed suicide as the result of bullying and cyber-bullying, as well as interviews with 7/8 students who shared their own experiences.
“Make friends, talk to someone,” one girl advised, “Basically, that way you know you’re not alone and everyone is loved, and bullying is not OK.”
In the days leading up to the final assembly, the Girl Scouts passed out awareness wristbands, led an informational Bully Booth and randomly posted positive messages on lockers across campus. The activities aimed to get fellow students talking and thinking about how to prevent teasing, and worse, on campus, says seventh-grade troop member Emily Tinkham.
“The main message is ‘buddies, not bullies.’ We should treat each other the way we want to be treated,” she said.
Troop leader Tammy Jacinto said the program was part of a project created for the Girl Scouts’ Silver Award, a leadership designation available to middle school Scouts. The award asks them to identify an issue in the community and work to solve it in a sustainable way.
Originally, the troop sought permission to create a No Bullying Zone on campus. But when Zerbel learned about it, he encouraged them to turn it into something that would really capture students’ attention and involve the entire school.
He shared some ideas he’d been cooking up, inspired by his wife, Elena, who’d conducted an anti-bullying campaign at Solano Middle School a few years back when she was assistant principal there. She’d devised a flyover photo of students, taken by the local sheriff’s department.
Once Troop 4771 heard about the idea, they took the ball and ran with it, turning the campaign into a community-wide service project. Brad Lew, an officer of the Spartan Boosters, volunteered to conduct the flyover, and others donated time, goods and food.
Zerbel says this is one of a few anti-bullying programs running throughout the school year. He hopes to continue the Anti-Bully Blue Ribbon Week next year, but recognizes the troop’s amazing efforts toward making the inaugural event a communitywide affair.
“They made it bigger than I thought it would be the first year — kudos to them. They did an outstanding job.”
Seventh-grade troop member Julia Powers, one of the 16 girls who’d worked since summer on the campaign, had to agree.
“We worked really hard,” she said after the assembly. “I think we pulled it off.”
-- Sara Cardine, firstname.lastname@example.org