June 24, 2018
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For Bangor kids, bullying outreach a missed chance

By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

Joye Levy is a girl.

Well … a woman who once was a girl. She also is raising one.

Levy knows what all girls know: Girls can be mean.

She’s also the director of education at the Penobscot Theatre, so last summer when conversations turned to taking a play on tour to communities around the state, the play “The Secret Life of Girls,” which depicts a story of teen bullying, seemed a good fit.

With help from The Acadia Hospital and eight University of Maine students, and with financial support from the C. Walder Parke Family Foundation and Eastern Maine Health System, that tour has been under way this month and the troupe has performed in Houlton for nearly 1,000 students, as well as in Camden, Rockport, Mount Desert Island, Hermon, Orrington, Brewer, Old Town and Hampden.

The theater is in Bangor, the hospital is in Bangor and one has to assume that students in Bangor schools are not immune to bullying and being bullied.

So one has to wonder why when so many other schools welcomed this unique and creative way to address such a volatile and pervasive problem, Bangor’s school system did not.

Despite numerous mailings, follow-up phone calls to Bangor school principals, e-mails, and even after hand-delivering information about the play to Superintendent Betsy Webb’s office, “We got no response,” Levy said this week.

“We live in Bangor. My daughter goes to a Bangor school. I really, really wanted to get this into our schools here,” Levy said.

Because of the financial help, the theater has been able to offer the play and an interactive follow-up “talk back” session for $500.

“Back in April I was so sorry that we weren’t getting a response that I tried again, offering to do both [Bangor] middle schools for the price of one,” she said.

Levy said she had found it difficult to get theater-based programs into the Bangor schools, specifically the high school and middle schools.

The theater has been involved in programs at the elementary school level.

On Thursday a story about the play ran in this newspaper and noted the lack of response from the Bangor school system.

Later Thursday, Levy was notified that perhaps Bangor was interested after all.

“Unfortunately the tour is over. I have three of my actors getting on planes this weekend. They are University of Maine students who have already put the start of their summer vacations on hold for two weeks so there wasn’t much we could do,” Levy said.

But on Friday, still bolstered by great reviews and still committed to bringing the play into Bangor middle schools, Levy began to work on the possibility of putting it back together in the fall, perhaps for a couple of shows in a larger venue where schools can bring their students to see it.

“This all just came about really when Bangor expressed an interest,” Levy said.

On Friday, Webb said the school system gets requests from groups and individuals every day seeking to bring programs or talks into the schools.

“We receive those offers all of the time,” Webb said, “If a member of the staff indicates an interest in such a program then we look into it. In this case that didn’t happen until Thursday when a member of the staff said she would be interested in having the production come here and that she might have some grant money available to fund it.”

People seemed quick to take note that the troupe was not performing in Bangor schools, perhaps because valid or not, Bangor schools have a bit of a reputation for not being terribly welcoming to some outside resources.

For years the department has refused to participate in a drug survey conducted by the state Office of Substance Abuse, though most high schools in the state take part in it.

On Friday, Webb said Bangor schools addressed bullying through established bullying curriculum, including bringing in special guest speakers.

“No one expressed an interest in this particular offering until Thursday,” Webb said.

Bullying by adolescents and teens has been making headlines in Maine and across the country since last January’s suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince of Massachusetts, who hanged herself after enduring months of bullying by some of her classmates. Several of those students have been charged criminally in relation to those alleged bullying incidents.

With the advent of modern technology, bullying has moved way beyond the borders of the schoolyard and through cell phones and computers it seeps into children’s homes, sometimes 24 hours a day.

Really routing it out, shining the light into the dark corners where it lurks, will take a massive effort of parents, school officials and students. In other words — a community.

Certainly, the school system gets a lot of requests for special programs and guest speakers and certainly must turn down many more than it can accept if it is actually to educate our children.

But there’s not a more serious issue than children having the right to feel safe at school and in this case a major city hospital with expertise in adolescent mental health and a creative crew from the Bangor-based Penobscot Theatre offered up a wonderful opportunity at a bargain price.

And they offered and offered and offered.

Perhaps, even if no one was interested, a polite phone call declining the offer would have been warranted.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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