Lessons on bullying take center stage

Name calling, threatening, spreading ugly rumors. Bullying can be upsetting and scary for kids. It can even lead to tragedies like suicides and violence at school.

Our new Educational Theatre Program play, “Above Between Below”, aims to help middle-school students understand bullying and learn how to prevent it.

Play helps bullying messages hit home

This fall, “Above Between Below” will be presented in classrooms at 21 middle schools in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. Next spring, it will move on to 10 schools in Spokane and Whitman counties. About 18,000 students will see the play and participate in discussions afterward. The program’s is a collaboration between Kaiser Permanente Washington and Seattle Children’s Theatre.

“This play shows how vulnerable we all are,” says Wellesley Chapman, MD, a personal physician with Kaiser Permanente and a member of the program’s advisory group. “We can all identify with the characters — the bullied person, the one who is bullying, and the onlooker — which makes its message really hit home.”

“When kids see situations acted out that they can relate to, it creates empathy, as well as a platform for in-depth conversation,” says Karen Sharp, managing director of Seattle Children’s Theatre.

Teaching through theater for 30+ years

Using theater to communicate important health messages to kids is not new for Kaiser Permanente. The organization has been presenting plays since the 1980s — tackling topics ranging from self-esteem to healthy eating to HIV.

“Educational theater is one way of supporting mental health and wellness that resonates with young people,” says Victoria García, manager of Community Health and Benefit for Kaiser Permanente Washington.

“Young people retain information much better when it’s performed in a play rather than delivered in a traditional classroom setting,” adds Glenna Kelly, who has worked with the program for more than 30 years. “Kaiser Permanente tested young people’s knowledge of healthy behaviors after a theater performance, and they retained the knowledge three weeks after seeing the play.” That’s a significant improvement over typical classroom lessons, she says.