Teens at a high school in Maryland are fighting back against bullying with creativity. For the second consecutive year, students in Mathew Parsons’ health studies class at Sherwood High School are writing and producing films about what’s become a global problem for young people.
Classmates - and best friends - Anya Mudryakova, Savannah Suser and Diane Trieu are making a documentary.
The 16-year-olds are still in the early stages of creating this year’s project, and haven’t picked a title yet.
It’s a choice between “Bullies are their own Bullies” and “Be Your Own Ally,” Anya explained, “because it mainly focuses on internal bullying, the way you see yourself or the way you bully yourself every day without even knowing it, because we want to reinforce that message that you should be nice to yourself first.”
Anya, the video shooter and editor, is excited about the project because she wants to raise awareness about the problem.
“Bullying has become more invisible, which makes it a problem,” she said. "People found new methods and ways to bully people without getting in trouble and that makes it way, way worse.”
Bully victim fights back
Anya has been making videos and posting them on YouTube since she was 10. She was bullied because of them.
“I got a lot of hate [mail] about it saying, ‘Oh, your videos are stupid,’ ‘You looked so weird,’ ‘Why are you making them?,’” she recalled. "But you know, as I got to high school I started embracing it.”
Embracing her hobby paid off. Her school chose the video she and her friends produced last year as Sherwood’s entry in the Great American No Bull Challenge, a global anti-bullying contest for teens. Titled "One," it was among the finalists.
The feature film explores how the victim of bullying feels.
Diane played the main character, and explained, “This character was being bullied by all her classmates. Basically it’s just everybody against her. She had nobody. But if you reverse it and somebody did help her, then she wouldn’t have taken her life.”
Make a difference and stop bullying
The message behind One is clear, says Savannah.
“One person can make a difference. There are a couple of people came up and said, ‘this video made me cry.’ It shows what people can do to make a difference.”
Based on her experiences, Savannah believes bullying is a big problem especially among girls.
“I don’t know; girls are awful," she said, after trying to find the right words. "We like to pick on other girls; ‘I don’t like the way she dresses,’ I don’t like the way her hair looks, there is something wrong with her,’ I don’t know it gets kids down.”
Be part of the solution
Teacher Mathew Parsons believes bullying is something teachers everywhere have to deal with.
“I think it’s a problem with teenage social dynamics," he said. “No matter where it is in the world or what culture it is, you’re always going to have the same teenage dynamics. So it's a problem everywhere. It's something where there are no so many solutions to and it continues to go on and on. And now with the Internet usage and social media, cyber bullying has become such an issue too.”
Mathew, who advises the young film producers in his class, says teachers can do very little to stop it, but teenagers themselves can be part of the solution.
“Any time, as teachers or administration, we tell students things they take it as we’re lecturing them," he pointed out. “When the students get to see something that fellow students created and see how much of an emotional impact it has, it really affects the students more. They can feel it more and understand the consequences and what their actions could lead to.”
Feeling that they can make a difference fills Anya, Savannah and Diane with enthusiasm, and hope that their video this year will be a winner.