“I’m the school bully, the classroom cheat, the nastiest playfriend you ever could meet.” –Cousin Kevin, from “Tommy,” 1975
Her last name translates to “joy” in Italian, but Mammoth Elementary School Speech Language Therapist Dee DiGioia’s anti-bullying campaign is built in large measure on the concept of “peace.”
This Friday, Oct. 28, at 12:45 p.m. for lower grades and 1:45 p.m. for upper grades, she’ll hold the very first Caring and Courageous Kids assembly to raise awareness on bullying. “It’s not something some parents and even some teachers like to acknowledge or talk about, but we need to talk about it to break the cycle of bullying,” she said.
During the assembly, DiGioia will introduce “the Peace Promise,” a school-wide commitment to standing up to bullying. She’ll also debut a new music video of a song she wrote, “Peace For You And Me,” an original song that she co-wrote with Bishop songwriter Grant Bentley and which stars some of her students.
For the last three of her seven years at MES, DiGioia has been heading up the Kids Program, and promoting and developing techniques and steps to stop bullying at its earliest stages. Born out of her own life experiences with bullying, she said the spark for her was a realization that it manifests itself with the same emotional characteristics in both adults and kids.
“Adults call it ‘harassment,’ but it’s the same thing,” she pointed out. “About 80% of our language is non-verbal. It’s relational, not necessarily physical. It happens alone or person-to-person, and can be found in forms of ostracism, body language or even the tone of a conversation. It’s subtle, but we know what it means.”
Stemming from fear, perhaps our most basic emotional state, DiGioia’s extensive research shows that bullying affects our life and daily work. In kids, that type of worry closes kids’ minds to education. “If they’re afraid, they’re not concentrating on math; they’re in survival mode.”
Bullying, as DiGioia assessed, has three major components: the target, the bully and the bystanders, who play a big part in the cycle. “They watch or remain quiet, or join in, because they don’t want to be the next target,” she explained. “But they also have a lot of power to stop it. Usually, it only takes one person to stand up and tell the bully, ‘Enough,’ and the rest will follow that lead.”
That choice inspired her to tap some of her artistic inclinations to write a play, “Which Team Will You Choose?,” which was first performed last October. “I use music and role-playing a lot in my work,” she said, emphasizing that rehearsal and acting help memory retention. “’Practice, practice’ is a major theme in the play. I used to be shy and introverted, but I found that acting lets me be someone else, and stand up for myself in public. I’ve used these techniques with dozens of kids, and it works!”
Later this year, DiGioia will hold auditions for a version of the play with a cast pulled from Mammoth Middle School grades 5-7 students, part of her goal of a district-wide, cross-school anti-bullying platform.
DiGioia stresses that responses using aggression aren’t helpful solving the problem. “Adults and authority figures sometimes use aggression and discipline-only tactics, but what they have to be willing to do instead is spending time and working with the kids,” she opined. She equates negativity to “bucket dipping” and positivity to “bucket filling.”
She also doesn’t underestimate the impact made by the media and social networking. “It’s huge. No one lives in a bubble. You might think your kids aren’t exposed to some of the more negative parts of it, but other parents’ kids might be.” Later this year, DiGioia said she plans to meet with a woman who’s started traveling around the country and sharing the experience of her son’s “bully-cide,” a tragic result of the new trend toward high-tech bullying.
All the more reason, she adds, to diffuse bullying at a young age, and teach skills, such as reasoning and reflection, that will ultimately be useful to them in later life. “Why develop bad habits and have to unlearn them later? Apologies are nice, but even if they’re heartfelt, that doesn’t make what happened okay.”
“We all bucket dip by mistake, but bullies mean it. It’s an intentional power grab for various reasons,” she described.
Parents, teachers, staff can bone up on bullying by checking out material from by her MES classroom anytime to borrow a wealth of collected books, CD audio and DVD from the Caring and Courageous Kids Lending Library.
“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” -Howard Zinn