I had the privilege of attending one of Ben's Bully-Free speaking events at a local school and was blown away by how engaged the students were. He had them laughing and focused on the depth of his message in a way that I know had to stick with them long after the assembly was over. As a parent, I was thrilled to see the positive messages of valuing differences and ending bullying presented with enough umph to have staying power.
I arrived early and signed in at the front desk and got my visitor pass. I observed students here and there helping to make sure all was set up for the speaker who was visiting. I heard one student mention him as "That guy that wrote that Spirit Bear book." I chuckled to myself and had time to reflect on an average day in the life of a 5th grader. I considered that out of all those students, at least a few of them had to be having a tough day, or week, or year. I thought about how challenging it can be to learn about yourself and your place in social structures while attacking long division and proper verb usage. These things are challenging even in the best of circumstances, but as I watched kids gathering to attend the assembly, I grew contemplative as I looked into a few faces, that on the surface at least, appeared to be taking on more than their fair share of challenges. It was then I silently hoped that this meeting, this time with Ben, would be more than just an opportunity to get out of Social Studies for an hour. I was hoping it would touch a student or two on a very real level. Make them feel good about themselves, help them realize they are not alone, and that there are adults who not only care but understand.
As Ben began his talk, I listened and observed. His stories and honesty about the struggles he faced as a kid hit the target audience like a well-aimed arrow. I watched as students laughed, empathized, and ultimately connected. It was exciting to see students respond. Then he got out his pictures of Buffy and every kid in the audience was fully engaged.
I'll tell ya, it was refreshing to witness students letting their guard down and being open to the message that, "It is ok to be different, it's what makes you special." I obviously don't know exactly what was going on with each student, if they felt the positive energy I felt in the room. What I do know is that the message came across loud and clear.
At the end, when students were allowed to ask questions, I was shocked. In all honesty, I expected there to be that uncomfortable silence where students and teachers alike look around in hopes someone, anyone, comes up with a question. You know how that goes, there is usually one more awkward offer from the host teacher, "Anyone?" Then the host thanks the guest and everyone files out of the assembly.
Not the case here. To my surprise, hands shot up all over, Ben pointed and off the Q&A time went. Questions about his travels, experiences, advice he would give, and the ultimate question proving he connects with 5th graders, "Are you a comedian?" I know this BLOG is about Bullying and I am one of the first guest contributors, but I couldn't resist sharing what I witnessed. I believe that if that kind of impact could happen at schools across this nation on a regular basis, we would be much farther down the road toward Bully-Free schools. Thank you for your efforts, Ben, you are making a difference.