The Arbor Park Intermediate School students sat down with RESPECT, a non-profit educational theatre company based out of Omaha, Tuesday to learn about bullying and harmful relationships.
The program was created to help students learn about healthy and unhealthy relationships as well as how their actions and choices can affect both themselves and their fellow students. Dr. Patricia Newman, founder/executive director of RESPECT, created the program for students to be able to identify with the characters in the plays and their experiences and introduces different problem solving ideas and potential strategies to help themselves and others to be able to recognize and prevent or stop bullying and other abusive or hurtful behaviors.
Samantha Zarders is one of three artistic directors for the company and has been with RESPECT for about two and a half years.
“We do about 300 shows per year and see about 30,000 students, but we are continually trying to grow,” Zarders said.
This is the second year that RESPECT has come to Arbor Park, however, this year the actors did a different play than the previous year. The different performances that RESPECT performs are based on commonly experienced situations that can lead the students to ask questions and seek advice from the actors.
RESPECT aims to try to teach students about positivity, mental health, building and maintaining healthy relationships, bullying, and how to be better friends to one another through the different plays that they perform. The group does about 10 performances a week serving both Nebraska and Iowa.
Julia Ervin, another actor, said she tries to teach the kids that kindness is powerful.
“I want them to learn that the small things that they do can make a big impact on not only their lives, but the lives of the people that are around them as well,” Ervin said.
The students learned about four different types of bullying through the presentation — physical, verbal, social, and cyber bullying — as well as identifying who each person was in each bullying situation and what characteristics classify someone a bully.
Actor Manny Oñate said he uses theatre to try to teach students about social justice.
“I like to show the kids real life scenarios so they know how to recognize and handle situations like this effectively,” Oñate said.
The actors included a session where students could show how they would handle or try to intervene in different types of real-life bullying situations that the actors were put in to make the kids more comfortable with both recognizing and stopping a bullying situation.