Knoxville “Takes a Stand” Against Bullying

Location: Tennessee By Becky Lewis Published March 2015

You are such a disappointment.

You have no friends.

You will never be good enough.

Statements that far too many young people hear every day, from their peers and from their families.

Statements that make up the cornerstone of an award-winning series of public service announcements jointly produced by the Knoxville (Tenn.) Police Department and that city’s Hardin Valley Academy.

Separate anti-bullying campaigns by the two partners intersected in spring 2012, when students in Hardin Valley’s Leadership class saw Knoxville PD’s “Take a Stand Against Bullying” billboard campaign and came up with the idea of asking the local law enforcement agency to partner with them on the PSA initiative. The police department already had a number of other projects underway (see sidebar, “School Safety Advocacy Council Honors Knoxville Police Department With National Anti-Bullying Recognition Award ”) through a U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance grant administered by the state Office of Criminal Justice Programs, and teaming up with the students on the PSAs seemed like another piece that fit into the project.

According to Ramona Dew, Knox County Coordinated School Health Supervisor and then-teacher at Hardin Valley, she challenged her Leadership class to come up with an initiative to change the culture of the school in fall 2012: “They came back and said we needed to do an anti-bullying campaign before someone in Knox County kills themselves. That is, in other places, initiatives seem to start after something happens, after someone dies in a car accident or commits suicide.”

The group first set out to address the issue with a series of 30-second sound bites filmed in the school’s hallways and shown during morning video announcements. Then, in spring 2013, the group came back to Dew with the idea to reach out to Knoxville PD. Dew contacted the department, and the Safety Education Unit agreed to partner with the students, telling them to “write the scripts and we’ll bring them to the screen.” The students did just that, writing scripts that touch on cyberbullying, mocking students’ academic struggles, shunning their company and more. In addition to writing all of the dialog, Leadership class students — not drama club members — do all of the acting as well.

“We worked with them to create 10 wonderful public service announcements, with the students doing all of the writing and acting while we provided technical assistance and filming support,” says Knoxville PD Capt. Bob Wooldridge, who heads the Safety Education Unit. Training Specialist Aubrey Maples provided logistical support, and technical support personnel Julie Small and Eric Miller took care of the videography and post-production editing.

When the filming started in spring 2014, our project U anti-bullying campaign had already been going on for two years, but this opened up a new conversation: What’s going on? What are they doing? It had an impact on our school, and the students who were involved have gone to speak at other schools in Knox County as well,” Dew says. “We show the PSAs in our city’s middle schools as part of our projectU campaign and ask students if they have seen similar incidents happening in their school, and to think about how they can have an impact. The idea is that everybody has a choice to make and ‘U’ can make a difference. Our Leadership class efforts didn’t end with the PSAs, because it’s about living this every day in school and impacting those around you.”

“At the National Bullying Conference (where Knoxville PD received an award; see sidebar), I was asked what was the best thing about our campaign. I would definitely say the partnerships with, and commitment from, the community, parents, teachers, principals and students. That’s one of true keys to recognizing bullying: heightening awareness and being able to deal with it. Having the student involvement in designing and writing these PSAs helps the community make a difference when it comes to bullying,” Wooldridge says. “We’ve put the videos out on our website for everyone to see, and I hope they go viral, because they’re a tool that law enforcement agencies and schools across the country can use. I’d like to see it help students across the country see that bullying is everywhere and they can “Take a Stand.’ ”

“ProjectU isn’t a specific curriculum, because the needs and culture of every school is different. It’s about getting students involved in responding to needs and making a change,” Dew says. “I would love to be able to help other schools do something like this. Teaming up with KPD has helped my students learn that it takes a collaborative effort, and many different entities need to be involved in order for a project like this to succeed. ”