by Janet I. Martineau
Concerned about statistics indicating one in seven school students is either a bully or a victim of bullying, four Great Lakes Bay region organizations are teaming up for an unusual “battling bullying” initiative.
Titled the Great Lakes Bay Great Read, the multi-faceted program is targeted at 80 middle school classrooms in Bay, Midland and Saginaw Counties.
The students will collectively read the award-winning book “Touching Spirit Bear,” told from the viewpoint of a bully; attend a presentation by the author of that book, Ben Mikaelsen, and then embark on a field trip to see an art project created by a man in response to his lifetime of being bullied.
Their parents and other concerned citizens also will have an opportunity to hear the author, who says he was both a bully and bullied during his school years.
“And in addition, the teachers in those 80 middle school classrooms will attend an in-service workshop with two speakers,” says Carolyn Wierda, the interim associate dean in Saginaw Valley State University’s College of Education.
“Deborah Smith, an associate professor of teacher education at SVSU, will talk about using books to teach about social issues. And Kim Sumerix, a therapist with Child & Youth Services in Midland, will provide examples of how teachers can respond to bullies.
“We have heard from so many teachers who want more help with the issue of bullying,” says Wierda, “so we want to be able to offer them some guidance which they can then take back to their schools to share with other teachers, along with additional literacy strategies.”
Partnering with SVSU on the Great Lakes Bay Great Read project are Saginaw Township Schools Community Education, Bay City Public Schools and Creative 360 in Midland.
|Author Ben Mikaelsen|
Creative 360, a non-profit arts group, owns and operates what is called the John Pratt Mosaic House, on the western edge of Midland County.
A victim of mental illness most of his life, and picked on because of it, in his adult years Pratt created colorful mosaic scenes on the exterior of the family home in a prime example of what is called folk art. He used broken glass and plates, bottle caps, nuts and bolts, and found objects.
“All of the events will be offered free, to the schools and to the public,” says Steve Elliott, director of Saginaw Township Schools Community Education.
“So far we have raised $24,000 from area foundations to pay for the cost of bringing the author here, the venue rentals for his nine presentations, the teacher in-service session, and some of the 2,500 copies of the books which will go to those 80 classrooms.
“Now we are appealing to Great Lakes Bay Region businesses and groups to ‘sponsor a classroom’ to pay for the bus transportation to see Mikaelsen, the remainder of the books, and the bus trip and art supplies linked to the Pratt house visit.”
Mikaelsen is coming to the area April 17-19 -- speaking to students during the day and the public in the evening on April 17 in Midland, April 18 in Bay City and April 19 in Saginaw.
The students in the 80 classrooms will receive copies of his book on March 1, the same day as the in-service training for their teachers at SVSU. “So far we have 58 classrooms signed up so there is room for more,” says Wierda.
And the Pratt House tours and art project connected to it will take place mid-April through May.
“I have conducted more than 60 student tours to the Pratt property through the years,” says Jan List, a volunteer with Creative 360, “and it is remarkable to witness the reaction. We have done a lot of the tours for at-risk or special needs students, and they so totally connect with this man who was picked on like they are.
“They seem to ‘get’ the idea that sometimes the best way to respond to being bullied is to immerse yourself in a creative way, like John did. With the art project connected to their visit, we give them materials to make their own small mosaics.”
Among the financial support received so far are grants from Citizens Bank Wealth Management, FORCE through the Saginaw Community Foundation, Midland Youth Violence Prevention Partnership, Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation, Harvey Randall Wickes Foundation, Bay Area Community Foundation, Dow Corning and Jury Foundation.
For more information about possible donations and school sign ups, contact Elliott at (989) 399-8029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.