Welcome to Our Stories Count!

Addressing bullying with stories We are glad you have found our website. This site is the work of Dr. Kevin Cordi and Adjunct Professor Kim Masturzo and countless students who have created videos to help educate others about what to do if someone bullies them. They have created videos, planed activities, and  provided resources to help people know that when they tell thier story, it counts. Over the next couple of weeks, we will be updating this site so it becomes a complete resource. There will also be an active blog for your to follow. In the meantime we would like to share this video from Ohio Domincian University education student Amanda Tate.
She interviewed students on the subject of bullying and also tells her own story. Be sure to come back real soon and share this resource with everyone you know. “Together we can help prevent bullying with stories because OUR STORIES COUNT!”

Spotlight interview with Erin Jade Lange

Our Star Reviewer Alexis Schneider had the pleasure of interviewing Erin Jade Lange, author of the must read books Butter and Dead Ends.
Erin Lange Bio Photo[1]
When you wrote Butter were you hoping to address a certain topic or idea? In the process, were your eyes opened to anything that you had not expected?
I never set out to send a message or address a particular topic. I always just wanted to tell a good story in Butter. However, since publication, I’ve received so many emails from readers who struggle with the issues addressed in the book, from obesity to internet bullying, and it’s made me realize that if I want to write about tough topics, then I have to be ready to embrace the conversation that comes after the book. And that has actually been the best reward – connecting with teens and trading stories.
2.     What do you think is the most important thing for teachers to keep in mind when they are addressing bullying in their classrooms?  How do you hope that the book Butter might be used to serve in this direction? 
I think the most important thing teachers can do – the most important thing any of us can do – is to encourage an open dialog about bullying. As a journalist, when I cover stories about teen suicide brought on by bullying, too often family and friends say afterward: We had no idea. The teens in those cases bottled up emotions and failed to turn to anyone for help. If we can get them to trust and talk to adults or peers when they’re in trouble, then we’ll be getting somewhere. And if Butter can be used as a tool to help open up that dialog, I’d be honored.
 Butter by Erin Jade Lange
3.     Which character in Butter do you most identify with? Please explain.
At different stages of my life, I would have identified with different characters. As an adult, I most identify with The Professor. He enjoys connecting with teens and pushing them to be their very best. He doesn’t underestimate them due to age, and I hope I don’t either. Although, unlike the Professor, if a teen in trouble came to me for help, I hope I would recognize that cry for help and do something other than put them in a cab and send them away.
4.     How does Dead Ends differ from Butter in the way that it deals with bullying?  
Dead Ends comes at the bullying issue from the point of view of the bully instead of the victim. In Dead Ends, the main character, Dane, doesn’t even seen himself as a bully. He thinks he’s just a tough kid who retaliates when he believes he’s been wronged. Throughout the book, we see how that view of himself changes, and we see what motivates his rage and how he tries – and often fails – to fight it.
5.     What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to kids and teens who have been bullied?
This experience will make you stronger. It will make you empathetic and kind and bulletproof. I, too, was bullied, and while it was one of the worst years of my life, I wouldn’t trade it for a million bucks, because it made me who I am today, and it made me better.
6.  Any other comments you want to share.
No, I think you asked some excellent questions. I can’t think of anything to add. Thanks for interviewing me for the site. And thanks again for the great review!


           Be sure to check out Alexis’s review of Butter at  http://ourstoriescount.com/2013/11/star-review-butter-erin-lange-review-alexis-schneider/    and check out Erin’s recent  book Dead Ends.   If you have a book that we must review, please feel to recommend it to us.  If you are interested in being a STAR reviewer, send an inquiry and we will send you information.   




Star Review: Butter by Erin Lange review by Alexis Schneider

A Review of Butter

By Erin Jade Lange


Review by Alexis Schneider

Butter by Erin Jade Lange


I couldn’t control the kids at school. I couldn’t control my parents or my weight or my life…but I could command the conversation online. I could make sure the only things people said about me in cyberspace were the things that I invited them to say. And if I could control that, then that would be all that mattered.


Butter expressed these words.   It is easy for readers to fall in love with Butter, a gentle giant, who clearly only wants to please his mother and win Anna, the girl of his dreams, and find a way for her to notice him. In fact, when first reading the book I identified with him immediately being that I am overweight myself. However, as the book progresses Butter becomes less and less lovable and readers will really start to question why they initially empathized with Butter. The protagonist is constantly picked on at school because he weighs over 400 pounds, Anna doesn’t know he exists, and his father has stopped speaking to him altogether. After realizing his lack of power over his situation Butter decides to end his life by eating himself to death live over the internet. Butter, By Erin Jade Lange sends a powerful message concerning anti-bullying.   Its controversial characters, present-day issues, and theme of personal responsibility will lead to involved discussions and extensive learning.

            It will be easy for teens to identify with Butter not simply because childhood obesity is a major issue that our country faces, but because Butter’s inner monologue about his weight and his relationships with friends and family is something that they can all relate to on some level. Lange allows us to feel what Butter feels throughout his journey.  This helps us figure out why he matters. Butter thinks to himself, “Now they were all staring at me waiting to see what the giant would do next,” after a scene in his high school cafeteria where he stands up for his crush, Anna.

            However, Lange’s book is not cut and dry like many anti-bullying novels. While Butter first emerges as a lovable character whose dad has stopped speaking to him due to his weight, teens will soon begin to question why Butter doesn’t just lose the weight. Unlike many overweight characters that are depicted as poor or unfortunate, Butter is wealthy and has a loving mother who provides him with access to plenty of health care and even options to attend fat camp. Why then, is it so difficult for him to lose weight? Not only does Butter have a problem losing pounds, but he actually tries to prevent his friend Tucker from taking steps that will allow him to lose weight. Lange has created a journey, which deals with complex emotions and drives the reader to make choices.



            It is not just these complex characters and emotions that make this story compelling to younger audiences, but also the modern-day issues that the novel deals with, such as cyber-bullying. Cyber-bullying is a heavy theme throughout the book.   With the rise of cyberbullying, it is important that teachers discuss this topic in the classroom. Butter’s suicide attempt comes in the form of him trying to eat himself to death. He purposely chooses items that he is allergic to, alcohol and raw food meant to disgust the viewers. Butter believes that the only way that his peers will ever respect him is if he completes this outrageous task in front of them and for a while this seems like it works. When his peers learn of his website they immediately begin showering him with attention and cheering him on to his goal. A comment left on Butter’s website read, “This dude is amazing. Do you know he actually ate an entire tub of butter in one sitting? My friend was there. He saw the whole thing. The guy ate the entire tub and didn’t even barf. That’s why everyone calls him Butter.” It is likely that many students have been cyber-bullied or know someone who has been cyber-bullied and this hot button issue will lead to some effective classroom discussions.

            The themes running through this text also provide powerful material for discussion and should spark some lively debate amongst readers. Questions about power and personal responsibility are found throughout the entire text and it may even be helpful to choose a specific question and divide your class into debate teams to present opposing ideas. For example, groups could discuss which character in the book lacked the most personal responsibility. Butter certainly had a hand in the weight that he gained, but at what point does his mother’s need to feed him and his father’s refusal to speak to him aid the depression ultimately fueling his need to eat?

Other questions could include: 

  • Is Butter more or less responsible for his weight given that he has the resources to do something about it where others do not?
  • What responsibility does Anna play a part in? Do Butter and his family have a moral responsibility to society?
  • Does society have a moral responsibility to them?
  • In what ways do the bullies show and/or lack responsibility to themselves and their peers?
  • Are the bullies responsible for their actions or are they symbolic of a larger societal problem?

Lange uses this book to pose all of these questions and so many more that it would be impossible for a reader to feel inner conflict when reading it.

            I would encourage any high school teacher to add this book to their classroom shelves. Please be advised that it does contain strong language and situations. Lange has created a fantastic, gripping read. This text will help enrich your students understanding of issues such as bullying but also can help promote discussions of community and isolation. Its characters are controversial and stimulating, the issues are real and current, and its themes will cause even adult readers to struggle with this material.


About the Reviewer

Alexis Schneider is a student of English at Ohio Dominican University and hopes to one-day work with kids and adults. She believes in the endless possibilities of creative education and hopes to one day help young students as well as adults realize their own potential. In her spare time she writes plays, poems, and short stories. She lives with her husband and two cats in Hilliard Ohio.

*Alexis is a Starred Reviewer.  This is a group of writers, teachers, librarians who have committed to write reviews for this site.  I am 

thankful for their skill, dedication, and time.  If you would like to be a starred reviewer

please contact me at kcteller@sbcglobal.net 


The Wounded Seagull, Social Worker shares a powerful story

There is so much we can achieve from stories.  Today we feature Dr. Gail Ukocki who has shared with me that she uses stories in her teaching.  Here is an original story from her.  We so appreciate the value of narrative in helping others.  Dr. Ukocki demonstrates this here.   We appreciate her struggle and her success.   We hope that others will read her story and find strength as well.



The Wounded Seagull

by Gail Ukocki, Ph.D.

When I was ten years old, my grandmother told me that seagulls would crowd around a wounded seagull and peck it to death. These seagulls could not tolerate weakness. They just would not leave the wounded seagull alone, whether or not it had a chance of survival.






Maybe this assertion is true, maybe it is not. It is the power of this image that matters to me. For I was a wounded seagull, and I was in so much pain as a child that I wanted to die. I never called what happened to me “bullying” or the milder term “being picked on.” What happened to me at school seemed right and just, because it only echoed what was happening in my home. I deserved to be called ugly and worthless and disgusting. The children at school were only seeing what my parents and siblings had seen in me, a mistake that never should have been born. At home, my mother would tell me that she wished I were dead and had dreamt of my funeral. At school, the kids would mock me every time I opened my mouth and every time I was quiet. It mattered not what I did or did not do—it was my very existence that compelled people to hate and despise me. Listing the reasons why the kids treated me like a pile of crap is rather easy: I had a significant speech defect so I mispronounced many words, I became disabled with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when I was eight so I was very clumsy, I came from a lower-income family so I was never dressed well, I was tall and gawky and acne-ridden, and I had a strange sense of humor. The critical fact, though, was that I was an abused child–a wounded seagull. The children sensed it and circled around me to wound me even more. Never feeling safe either at home or school, I would sneak out of the house in the middle of the night and wander around the neighborhood in my pajamas.

 crying child

Only the darkness made me feel safe. When I read about bullying today, the parents always seem so supportive and loving. What happens when the parents are unable to love that child? It never occurred to me to tell anyone in my family about what was happening in school, since I was sure that they would tell me that I deserved it for being so dumb and useless.


One of my brothers was a year older than me, so he knew what was going on. He was getting some flak for being my brother. This enraged him, and he told me he wished I wasn’t his sister. He was so ashamed of me. I tried to apologize for being such a loser, but had no words to say. Fortunately, the dark demon inside of me has faded away. I may hear occasional whispers of the cruel taunts, but they have lost their potency. No longer do I have to avoid mirrors, but can gaze into them with a hard-won satisfaction. Look at me—this is me—and I am damn proud of what I have accomplished. The wounded seagull has found healing and has taken flight.





About the author:


Having taught at ODU since 2003, Ukockis has also taught for the Ohio State University College of Social Work and the History departments at the University of Connecticut and Colorado State University.  In 2003, Ukockis was named “Graduate Teaching Assistant of the Year” by the OSU College of Social Work.
Her academic record includes graduate work in Social Work (she earned her PhD in 2007) and History.  Currently, her research interests include caregiving (both for the elderly and the seriously ill), cultural competence, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
She has been involved in numerous community service projects, including chairing the Legislative Committee of the National Association of Social Workers and mentoring children in foster care.

Talking with the author:


Why use stories in your teaching and social work?


Statistics may show the extent of a social problem, but stories show the core meaning of it.   When I teach about the health care system, for instance, I ask students to share stories about their experiences with the medical field.  People remember stories because they can touch the heart.


This story is personal and I am sure sometimes difficult to tell, why tell it now?

For years, I did not identify myself as being “bullied” because my experience seemed  uniquely mine.   It just seemed normal and natural that the kids would hate me so much.  To put my experience in the larger context was part of the healing process.  Social attitudes have changed over the years, and certain behaviors are no longer tolerated.  I applaud this website and other efforts to fight such destructive behavior.


 Why do you think stories can  help others address difficult situations?

Telling the story is therapeutic, and hopefully reading others’ stories will be healing or enlightening.

 At first, it’s impossible not to take verbal abuse personally.  But take a big step back from the incident and realize that the problem is not with the abused but with the abuser.  It takes mental discipline to fight the negative energy created by the ugly words.  You have to be tough to stop the downward spiral that results into thinking that you are a worthless waste of life.  Fight the impact of verbal abuse by not taking it personally.  When you are ready, you also have to forgive the attackers or the bitterness could eat you up like acid.  Without forgiveness, there is no healing.

Having taught at ODU since 2003, Ukockis has also taught for the Ohio State University College of Social Work and the History departments at the University of Connecticut and Colorado State University.  In 2003, Ukockis was named “Graduate Teaching Assistant of the Year” by the OSU College of Social Work.
Her academic record includes graduate work in Social Work (she earned her PhD in 2007) and History.  Currently, her research interests include caregiving (both for the elderly and the seriously ill), cultural competence, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
She has been involved in numerous community service projects, including chairing the Legislative Committee of the National Association of Social Workers and mentoring children in foster care.

– See more at: http://www.ohiodominican.edu/templates/academics-faculty.aspx?id=19327353101#sthash.wboLsV6z.dpuf

Having taught at ODU since 2003, Ukockis has also taught for the Ohio State University College of Social Work and the History departments at the University of Connecticut and Colorado State University.  In 2003, Ukockis was named “Graduate Teaching Assistant of the Year” by the OSU College of Social Work.
Her academic record includes graduate work in Social Work (she earned her PhD in 2007) and History.  Currently, her research interests include caregiving (both for the elderly and the seriously ill), cultural competence, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
She has been involved in numerous community service projects, including chairing the Legislative Committee of the National Association of Social Workers and mentoring children in foster care. – See more at: http://www.ohiodominican.edu/templates/academics-faculty.aspx?id=19327353101#sthash.wboLsV6z.dpuf
Having taught at ODU since 2003, Ukockis has also taught for the Ohio State University College of Social Work and the History departments at the University of Connecticut and Colorado State University.  In 2003, Ukockis was named “Graduate Teaching Assistant of the Year” by the OSU College of Social Work.
Her academic record includes graduate work in Social Work (she earned her PhD in 2007) and History.  Currently, her research interests include caregiving (both for the elderly and the seriously ill), cultural competence, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
She has been involved in numerous community service projects, including chairing the Legislative Committee of the National Association of Social Workers and mentoring children in foster care. – See more at: http://www.ohiodominican.edu/templates/academics-faculty.aspx?id=19327353101#sthash.wboLsV6z.dpuf

Student anti-bullying school wide effort part 2 “One leg at a time”




We continue to provide a  spotlight on the program “One Leg at a Time.” We continue to talk to the founder Ms. Lori Povisil who share more about this dynamic way to address violent behavior in the schools.519c8492726db8894bfd4e464e85bbf7

What is the future of the project?

OLAAT students from both Thomas and Kilbourne are currently planning for the upcoming trip to Orlando, Florida to present the One Leg at a Time Program at the National Conference on Bullying.


Also in the works are the production of 2 new videos, one on cyber-bullying and one on bullying that occurs to students with special needs.


The unique aspect about the One Leg at a Time program is that everything is student led, student driven, student tested and student approved. So whatever direction the students at a particular school want to go with the OLAAT program they can, it’s their ideas being put to use!

 ONe_LEg_At_A_Time_323 (2)

Finally, OLAAT is a non-profit organization, working toward achieving the 501(c)3 status. The money that is raised through the sale of merchandise goes directly to the OLAAT scholarship fund. In 2012, 2 $500 scholarships were awarded to 2 students who were active members in OLAAT. The goal for 2013 is to raise enough money to grant at least 4 scholarships!


What is a way you appeal to students and teachers?

The OLAAT concept is simple, and holds true in every aspect of life. As we continue to grow as an organization, we will shift from an anti-bullying campaign (because we hope to end bullying in our schools) to the One Leg at a Time Initiative, which is about making a difference in the lives of others.


Why the title “one leg at a time?” 

How do you put on your pants? No matter your gender, age, race, nationality, size, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status, or sexual preference we all share two things in common: one is that we are all human and the other is that we all put our pants on the same way – One Leg at a Time!

Think about that for a minute. How can anyone be better than you, or make you feel powerless, when every morning they get dressed just like you? On the flip side of that, how can you be better than anyone else, when you both put our pants on the same way…One Leg at a Time?


What is the vision for five years from now?

“Four to five years from now, when I am a senior, I envision a statewide, maybe even mid-west wide (or whatever region we are in). I see OLAAT as an organization, not a club that is both inside and outside of schools.” Graham Keaton


“As the founder of OLAAT, I hope to see a significant decrease in teen suicides that are a result of bullying. I hope that our organization/foundation continues to grow throughout our district, state and Nation. I truly believe that adults cannot fix the problems of bullying, but students can help end bullying. We just need to give the students the opportunity to have their voices heard.” Lori Povisil

Introducing student program “One leg at a time” part 1


Today we feature an anti-bullying school-wide effort called “One leg at a

time.”   They have at least four schools connected to this program.  They are growing and one reason is because they are committed to produce change.  I met the students including a dynamic student ambassador of the program Graham Heaton and others at an anti-bullying conference.  This program is student centered and really shows what happens when  you are motivated by compassion.  We are interviewing today the founder of this success program.  We have the privilege to talk to the founder Ms. Lori Povisil.


Students making a difference to address bullying.

Students making a difference to address bullying.

What is “One Leg at a time”? 

One Leg at a Time is an anti-bullying campaign that was born out of necessity in October of 2010. Why out of necessity? Because during the month of September, there were over nine teenage suicides across our nation that were directly linked to bullying! Nine promising lives were cut short because the pain of living through another day filled with torment, hate, and ridicule was too hard to handle. Dying became easier than living for those students. That’s just not the way things should be……so out of necessity, One Leg at a Time was born!


How did it start? 

It started with a group of students in M. Povisil’s health class that wanted to work together to find a way to help end bullying. Together the group developed the message and the mission for One Leg at a Time. (see the attached brochure for both our message and mission)


How has it grown?

Since the premier of our student created DVD in March of 2011, our group has done over 20 presentations for over 6500 students and adults. One Leg at a Time is in almost every school within the Worthington school district (we still have 3 more elementary schools to share our presentation). We have presented at the OEA/NEA Central Ohio ‘Stop the Bull’ Conference and will be presenting at the National Conference on Bullying in Orlando, Florida this February 27 – March 1!


Students engage in real conversation about the issue

Students engage in real conversation about the issue

Can you describe two to three stories that occurred as a result of the project?

One of the most moving stories is that of Michaela. Michaela is a senior at Thomas Worthington High School and she joined OLAAT as soon as the program was brought to TWHS. Michaela transferred to Thomas after enduring years of bullying at her old school. She always found herself defending others when they were being bullied, but she would never stand up for herself when she was being bullied. However, that changed when she joined OLAAT at Thomas. As she became more involved with OLAAT, she embraced the message and found her voice. She now stands up for herself and helps others find their voice to stand up for themselves, as well. When OLAAT does middle school and high school presentations, Michaela shares her story and reads a poem that she wrote describing her experiences. This always has a major impact on the audience.


“Over the last two years, the McCord OLAAT (group) has grown and become a family. It is now incorporated into the school life that it has become a safe-haven for the bullied. The club has done numerous events at McCord and every time you can feel the respect for fellow classmates growing stronger” Graham Heaton, One Leg at a Time member.


“Every Wednesday teachers at our school wear the One Leg at a Time shirts. When I see a teacher wearing the shirt, I know that I can go to them if I am ever being bullied, or witness bullying. It’s cool to see the staff supporting One Leg at a Time.” Ally, student at WKHS

You can find out more about this program and even arrange them to do a presentation by contacting at thier website www.onelegatime.org



Rooney Anne, Bullying; Teen FAQ, Arcturus Publishing Limited 2010

 bullying faq

review by teacher Lisa Colahan


This was an effective  resource to address the subject of  bullying. It is  geared toward older teen kids, (7th-12th) but really any aged child that is using cell phones, facebook, etc will find it informative.   The publication being 2010 made it very relevant to the more recent types of bullying including but not limited to texting and internet chat sites. This book was organized into chapters to address the different types of bullying. This text gave useful  definitions and examples of situations that apply to those circumstances. It had   side notes that provided  more detail about the topic. These sections were called “It happened to me” which was a short story by a kid who had had that experience,  “Health warning” which gave information about the risks of certain bullying behavior or retaliation, and my favorites was “Dear Agony Aunt” which were letters written from kids with bullying problems that included a response letter. The response letters were useful  resources on how to handle situations. I learned about resources that are available and laws that I didn’t know existed. An example is saving threatening texts because threatening messages is a criminal offense. I also learned about available hotlines that kids can call anytime they need help or to talk. What I think is most beneficial is that this text talked about not only all the types of bullying, but also the different types of bullies. We too often view bullies as only peers but this text explained how it could be a family member, a teacher, your girl/boy friend, etc. This text is just one of a series of books that I am sure is beneficial to kids with questions about real life situations. Other titles include, alcohol, drugs, keeping healthy, puberty, and smoking.

Review of Bullying and Me: Schoolyard Stories

Ouisie Shapiro, Bullying and Me: Schoolyard stories 2010

 Albert Whitman & Company (September 1, 2010)

Review by Teacher Lisa Colahan

WOW. This was a wonderful book. It was a collection of bullying stories short stories provided by kids. The stories were presented from many different points of view. Some of the stories were told by the kids who were  bullied and then gave effective and useful  examples of whom they talked to and what they did to get help or fix their problem. One  example was about a girl who founded an anti-bullying group for her school that taught younger grade levels through plays and songs about the effects of bullying. Other stories were told by the bullies, they explained what they did and why they did it. They also provided insight into how they should have acted differently. Lastly, they also had students that were bystanders who should have done something to help the kids being bullied and they didn’t. They explained what they would do differently if they were put in that situation again. At the end of each story there is a very brief statement from a educational psychologist to aid in our understanding of what bullying is and isn’t and how to cope with or change your situation. I highly recommend this text for 4th-8th graders as they are the age group that most of these stories came from and therefore I feel they would really be able to connect to these kids and their stories.

Nonfiction book review on Beth Rosenthal’s book Bullying

Bullying Rosenthal


Rosenthal Beth, Bullying;

review by teacher Lisa Colahan

Introducing issues with opposing viewpoints, Greenhaven Press 2008 This book feels a little outdated, the pictures seem older and the layout and font of the pages seems less enticing than some of the other available books on this topic. However, the great part about this book is each chapter starts with a debatable question such as “Do videogames cause more bullying?” and then both sides opinions are shared. At  the end of the chapter you are asked the same question again now that you have heard the opposing arguments. I like that part because it really promotes thinking and discussion among learners. This text also has some graphs and diagrams that make some of the data/information about bullying more visual. I think it is very beneficial that the chapters each have real stories of interest. For example there are true stories of kids who took their own life because of bullying and the question is should the bullies be tried? There is also important discussion about changes that have happened in different schools such as eliminating recess when kids were being bullied during that time. They question if that is helping or is just a Band-Aid solution to a larger problem. It provides real insight into real situations that students face and real news article reports of how this is impacting students, schools, and families.

A teacher shares her story and how she addressed bullying with community


Finding Her Voice

by Tracy Kabealo


Susan marched up to me with her friend Audrey, that usual look of unawareness on her face. “Mrs. K,’ Susan said, “Can I talk to you? It is really important.”

“Sure, Sue, but it’s gotta be quick- I need to get down to the lunch room, I don’t think any teachers are there.”

I didn’t feel bad rushing Susan along- these quick, trivial chats were a common routine for us. She was a fairly quiet student in class, and often seemed step behind everyone else. She did not always connect the dots together quickly, needing extra academic support and help. However, these past few months of the school year, she had started to grow into a more outgoing version of herself, particularly in relation to social interactions. Susan had in fact discovered the world of kind friends and of cute boys. There was a new air of girly, giggly silliness in Susan. Though sometimes coming on a little bit strong (and screechy!), the kids were accepting of Susan, endearingly embracing her. She was not a part of the “cool” circles, but a member of our community nonetheless.

Though quiet in class, Susan was needy of attention, and over the last 6 months had learned to trust the teachers in our school. Susan often found me in the morning before the bell, wanting to share a moment of no significance that happened over the weekend, a silly dream from the night before, or the latest gossip on who was dating who.

So, that morning, before lunch, as Susan stopped me to share, I was ready for an indulgent head nod and a, “That’s sweet, Sue, sounds like a great time!”

Instead, she said, “This is important, Mrs. K,” with a note of fear in her voice.

I put down my pencil and turned my chair. “Okay. What is it Susan?”

“Well….” Long pause. Susan took a shaky breath, and quickly, yet timidly continued, “Some of the girls have been calling me a lesbian, in a mean way. That is rude to a lot of people. I am not, and I don’t like how it feels.”

Whoa. Taken off guard, I leaned back in my chair. Many thoughts run through my head. Pride in Susan for finding courage to talk to me, sadness for the girls in our grade who have spent time this year talking about language that carries weight, and a need to talk with the other teachers on our team. Most prevalent, though, was a glaring uncertainty of what to do.

“Wow, Susan. That is big. And hard. And complicated. Can you tell me more about the situation?”

            After a long conversation, I asked Susan if it was okay if I talked to some other adults about this situation, including our counselor. She said yes, and we both decided to think on this to revisit the situation later that afternoon, or the next morning.

Lo and behold, that following day, Susan approached me before school. Without a word, I could see in the determination of her step that she had been thinking. She was ready to talk with me. Once we had walked over to my desk and away from prying ears, I said, “Okay, Sue. I talked to the other teachers, and we think it would be best to start with talking to Callie and Taylor, separately. If you want, then the 4 of us could have a conversation about this together, but I know that might be hard. Their intention to hurt you is not okay, and I want to make sure they are they understand why. What do you think, Susan? I would love to hear your opinion.”

I was expecting Susan to say, “Okay,” in her timid voice. However, she said directly, “I think I want to talk to all the girls in assembly.”

Uh. uh, what? I thought. Really? Uh, what!? At first speechless, then shocked, then excited, I let that sink in. Assembly is a time when all 84 members, yes, all 84, members of our 7th grade group assemble to have a meeting. The kids take risks and share talents, “brag” about accomplishments we wouldn’t hear otherwise, make proposals, and bring concerns before the group. This is student run, student led, but most of all includes student voice. This unique weekly space gives kids the privilege to speak before our group.

“Susan, are you sure? That is, well…brave.” I said.

“I only want to talk to the girls, no boys. Also, can Audrey stand with me?”

“Yes. And Yes. If you are sure, we can make that happen.”

I quickly ran around to the other 5 seventh grade teachers, letting them know that we needed to split boys and girls, because Susan- yes, Susan- wanted to confront the group.


When the 42 girls and 3 female teachers were together, we began the conversation. Mrs. Wilson said, “Alright girls, we have been hearing rumblings of frustration among our community. Do you all agree?” and we were off. One thing that is true of 7th grade girls: they love to talk. Pretty soon, there was sharing of the hurtfulness of gossip, of how powerful it can feel to pass on a secret, of the root of rumors, and more. I kept glancing at Susan as the conversation progressed, and after a while, she nodded at me. I said, “You know, girls, I think Susan is a member of our community that has recently felt very hurt by a rumor. Would you like to come up and share, Susan?”

She stood, along with Audrey, and faced the 40 girls from the front of our school family room.  After a quiet 10 seconds, she started tearing, then noiselessly crying. You could hear a pin drop. It was silent. Being exposed to this much raw honesty from a peer created a tension in the room. The hurt that Susan felt was palpable. Every girl, including those that had spread the rumor, felt for Susan and grieved with Susan. Audrey rubbed her back, and after about a minute, Susan said, “Someone said something about me behind my back that wasn’t true, and I didn’t like it. It isn’t true.”

Susan sat back down. No one moved, soaking in the authentic moment. After fumbling through a few closing words, we let the girls go to their next class. 6 different people came to give Susan hugs, and one girl came with an apology.


I can flap my mouth all day long as a teacher, but in middle school, community grows and culture changes when marginal students learn their own power. When apprehensive students learn to take risks. When the voiceless student, speaks. 

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 About the Author:

 Tracy Kabealo grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and received her bachelors from Miami University. She currently teaches Language Arts at Phoenix Middle School in Worthington, Ohio, and is daily surprised by her 7th grader students. Tracy believes that every student has something to say, and that empowering individuals is one of the most effective ways combat the bullying tide. 

How to Use Patricia Polocco’s Bully in the Classroom

How to Use Patricia Polocco’s Bully in the Classroom


Review by Adjunct Professor Kim Masturzo

Ohio Dominican University 

Patricia Polacco’s books have always been a favorite of mine, but it wasn’t until I heard her speak at an elementary school, that I truly understood and appreciated the passion behind her stories.  For those who are familiar with Polacco’s books know that she typically intertwines a personal or family story into her books.  It usually not until the end that Polacco’s personal connection to the story is revealed.  In my opinion, her personal connections add value and depth to her books.  In Thank you Mr. Falker (2012), the story is about Trisha who is a struggling reader.  Trisha moves to a new city and is hopeful that in this new school, no one will notice the academic difficulties that she faces on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, despite the move to a new place, the kids indeed notice and she begins to be bullied.  It takes a new and special teacher to discover Trisha’s disabilities and put an end to the bullying that she has been facing.  At the end of the book, there is a personal note from Patricia Polacco, telling her readers that she was Trisha.  She struggled with dyslexia until the age of 14.  Thank you Mr. Falker became even more meaningful to me after reading the final page, where Patricia Polocco reveals that she was the main character in the story.   Her personal journey and story is one that many children and adults connect with on a personal level.   


Thank you Mr. Falker is just one example of how this author relates to her stories.  What I found unique about Bully (2013), Polacco’s newest release, is that this book was not about her family or even a personal story, but it was inspired by her school visits and the number of stories she hears about the issue of bullying facing our youth today.  In this book, she attempts to tackle the most common type of bullying kids are facing today, which is cyber bullying.  It is a quite simple story that most middle school kids can relate to, but written with inspiring and moving illustrations that are typical for Polacco.  On the cover of the book we see the facial expressions of the characters in the story.  Behind the images, are negative words that display the type of cyber bullying messages that are often sent through social media.  The words make a strong statement and set the tone for the serious nature of the story that is about to be told.  The fact that this is a picture book is also appealing.  Due to the serious nature of the story, the illustrations provide an additional dimension to the story.  At the middle school level, we often forget to use picture books to tell a story or send a message.  I believe kids are still kids and enjoy looking at the illustrations.  As an adult, I still enjoy the artistic elements that are presented in children’s literature.  The topic is heavy and powerful, but telling it in the form of a picture book allows for involvement and invitation.  The illustrations add another layer of interest to the story.  

Bully tells the story of a new girl arriving at middle school for the first day.  She bonds quickly with a boy named Jamie, who becomes her loyal friend.  It is when she makes the cheerleading squad and gets noticed by the popular/cool girls, that she isn’t the friend to Jamie that he has been to her.  After making tough choices, she realizes who her true friends are and that hanging with the popular girls isn’t always what it is cracked up to be.  After the popular girls begin to make fun of Lyla’s “real” friend, Jamie, Lyla takes a risk and makes the right choice to stand up against the popular girls and have the courage to defend her friend.  This is an excerpt from the conversation that Lyla has with Gage (one of the popular girls).  “I got up the all the courage I could and pulled away from her.  “Jamie Aldrich is no court jester, no clown, Gage…And he’s one of my best friends.”  I wanted to say, You and your friends are nothing but bullies.  Bullies!  Even so, I walked away feeling like I a ten-thousand pound weight was lifted off my shoulders.  I was walking on air.”  Polacco plays out the story with the use of social networking and school drama that kids today can relate to today.  The story is current, relevant and honest.  A unique twist to the story is at end, when the reader is asked a question, “What would you do?” The words are printed in bold; I believe this was done to demonstrate the importance of dialogue regarding this topic.  I think Patricia Polacco wants parents, teachers and kids to start talking and addressing this topic now.  In reading her book, it is the perfect way to open the door and start to put an end to cyber bullying.



Ways to Use Bully in the Classroom:

  1. Simply reading the book to students is a way to spark conversation about the topic of cyber bullying.  The last page poses a bold question that the reader/audience must address.  “What would you do?”  Allow students to address the question. The question can be written on chart paper.  Record responses or let students come up and write their own responses. 
  2. Patricia Polacco has a You Tube video that discusses her inspiration for writing the book and offers suggestions as to how to utilize with kids.  She talks about her visits to schools and provides examples of questions to ask kids after reading her Bully.
  3. Instruct students to research websites or literature the provide ways to end cyber bullying.  There is a program that I found called STOP cyber bullying.  It was the first cyber bullying program in North America.  There are excellent tools to utilize for different age groups on the website.  www.stopcyberbulling.org   There is a story entitles, Goldilocks and the Cyberparents that students can read or can be read as a class.  It has facts and information to follow.  Familiar characters from folk and fairy tales are used to tell a familiar story, using today’s social media. 
  4. Have students write a personal reflection about Bully.  Individually let students address their own thoughts and ideas.  Students may or may not want to share their thoughts, but their writings can be a springboard for discussion.
  5. Brainstorm an action plan for your school/classroom.  Allow students to create an action list of how to deal with cyber bullying.  Perhaps create a class list but also have students create their own personal list.  Put in writing, what you would do if you or someone you know was the target of cyber bullying. 
  6. Create PSA’s (Public Service Announcements) to address cyber bullying.  Students may want to work alone or with a partner to create a powerful message. 

7.   Encourage students to create positive sayings to buzz words to promote a positive           school/classroom atmosphere.  Use graffiti style writing to post the sayings for

      students to see/use. 


Kim Masturzo is an Adjunct Instructor at Ohio Dominican University where she teaches Children’s and Young Adult Literature and also supervises student teachers.  She is passionate about teaching and enjoys her work with pre-service teachers.  Kim is married and has two amazing children.


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