Before the Bullying program aims to stop bullying before it starts through songs and friendship

'We're all the same on the inside'

LUDLOW, Ky. -- There was a message in all the singing and dancing and examining apple slices happening at Ludlow’s Mary A. Goetz Elementary School.

It didn’t take long for second-grader Scarlett Vanover to figure it out.

“To be nice to other people and that we’re all the same on the inside,” Scarlett said.

That’s where the apples came in: The red ones and yellow ones all looked the same under their skin.

Understanding that about people is important, she said, “because if someone bullies someone they have to stop and think that, ‘Wait, maybe I’m the same as that person.'"

Those lessons, and all the songs and activities surrounding them, were part of the classroom program “Before the Bullying: Prevent Bullying Through the Arts!” created by Growing Sound, a division of the Covington-based nonprofit organization Children Inc.

RELATED: Here’s a way to stop bullying before it starts

The program uses music and performance to teach young children to be good friends and feel empathy for others and then reinforces those lessons with classroom instruction and take-home materials. The program builds upon work that Growing Sound has been doing for years, creating catchy tunes with meaningful messages.

“From the very beginning, all of the songs, before we even put the label of ‘Before the Bullying’ on these songs, have been about developing children from the inside out so they can be a better person in themselves, make friendships and therefore be responsible in the world,” said David Kisor, the creative director of Growing Sound.

Alyson Bleistine of Growing Sound talks about how apples can look different on the outside but are the same on the inside. (Eric Clajus | WCPO)

Researchers have found that children who learn strong social and emotional skills feel a greater sense of belonging at their schools and are less likely to bully others and less likely to stand by and watch if they see another child being bullied, according to Growing Sound. Kisor said he wrote the songs that are part of “Before the Bullying” to help children build those skills.

If every child truly learns those lessons, Kisor explained to the Ludlow second-graders: “We can stop the bullying before it even starts.”

It’s important for kids to get that guidance early, said Pamela Johnson, a teacher and part-time guidance counselor at Mary A. Goetz Elementary School.

“Bullying becomes much more difficult the older children get,” Johnson said.

‘We can still be friends’

“When they’re young, it’s them sitting around on the playground and, ‘Oh, I don’t like your shoes’ or ‘Your hair is a mess,’” she said. “But when they get older, you know, the things that they bully with, social media. Anything like that, it’s there for everybody to read and it stays out there for everybody to see, even later on.”

Growing Sound received a grant from ArtsWave to bring the program to two schools in Northern Kentucky -- Mary A. Goetz Elementary and Lincoln Elementary School in Dayton.

The organization selected the schools based on the number of children the program could impact and the economic needs of the community, including whether the schools lacked funding for bullying prevention programs, said Alyson Bleistine, Growing Sound’s director of product sales, marketing and licensing.

Johnson said Mary A. Goetz Elementary was excited to be chosen.

"It’s a great opportunity,” she said. “The program is so beneficial because it actually teaches those early social, emotional skills that we teach every day -- friendship, teamwork, responsibility -- it just reinforces what we teach every day.”

David Kisor, standing at keyboard, performs during the "Before the Bullying" program. (Lucy May | WCPO)

Even if the program doesn’t prevent bullying completely, she said, it can help in other ways by encouraging kids to see things from the perspective of others.

“It kind of prepares them, preventatively, for any situation hopefully that they would have later on in terms of bullying,” Johnson said.

Kisor said he hopes children leave the program understanding that differences aren’t “deficits.”

“Just take a look at each other and not back off because of differences but to come together over our differences," he said. "Hey, we have a different type of hair, a different skin color, we like different things. We can still be friends. We come together over the differences, celebrating the differences so that they don’t come in the way and they don’t become something that separates us.”

Scarlett Vanover colors an origami butterfly as part of the program. (Eric Clajus | WCPO)

More information about “Before the Bullying” is available on Growing Sound’s website.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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