GLENS FALLS — Classrooms are transforming into film sets at Glens Falls Middle School this week as students create their own anti-bullying PSAs with the help of a Washington-based nonprofit.
Principal Kristy Moore said the two-week-long session gives students a unique opportunity to use equipment and technology they wouldn’t normally have access to, while also promoting a positive message.
“They’re so engaged,” Moore said. “It’s not like math class where I know I’m good at math or bad at math. It’s a new experience for all of them at the same time.”
The school partnered with Mike Feurstein, co-founder of the Don’t Wait to Unmake a Bully Project. The organization has worked with over 8,500 students from across New York, Washington and as far as Australia to let students produce their own movies and videos that serve as a warning to others about the harms of bullying.
He spoke while editing footage the students had just recorded, and said sometimes it was a challenge to squeeze so much into only a few days with each class.
Feurstein said his goal is to get kids to understand the reasons behind bullying behavior and empathize with someone who may be a target of bullying. The specific topic in each video is often determined by what the teacher sees as the biggest problem within their classroom. That way it has a chance to have an immediate impact.
He said occasionally he sees the effects of the program in real time, with some students turning a corner in a single day.
“Teachers and I have seen a kid, in the day, do a 180,” Feurstein said. “I’ve had kids stand up on their chairs at the end of the day and say, ‘I just want to say I’m sorry, everybody,’ and start crying, and it’s a really sweet moment.”
The videos Feurstein has helped produce have over a million combined views online and connected an international network of students around the same cause. They have also been featured before movies at theaters in the area, and have appeared in French textbooks as well.
Students in Jen Martell’s fifth grade classroom operated the camera, wrote scripts, recited lines and called action on a makeshift movie set where she and Feurstein stood back and let the students take charge.
Each student has to apply for the role of their choice by writing about why they would be a good fit for the job. Moore said sometimes children will make choices that seem out of character, but spark a new attitude.
“All of the sudden the student will have this really strong voice in the video that you’ve never heard before,” Moore said, “So it’s giving adults in the building a chance to see kids in a new light.”
Moore said she thinks she will see a change in student behavior after the videos are wrapped and screened at the school later this year. She said she expects the students will feel proud of their PSAs once they see the finished product, and they are uploaded online for others to see as well.
Ana Frankenfeld, a student in Martell’s class, said she had enjoyed the experience and loved her role as an actor. She also said she hopes people who watch the video remember its message.
“I just want to teach people that sometimes you think you might be funny, but you’re really hurting their feelings,” Frankenfeld said.