- Associated Press - Thursday, December 3, 2015

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - One of the lessons Rebekah Hodge enjoys teaching her Thompkins Middle School students doesn’t involve language arts, literature or social studies - all of which she teaches. It starts with each of them taking out a single piece of paper.

“I say to them, ‘OK. Every time I make a statement, if you’re guilty of this, if you’ve done this, fold your paper,’” Hodge said.

Statements include things like “I’ve said I hate you to someone,” or “I’ve pushed and shoved someone because I thought it was funny, but they didn’t.”

“When I got to the end of my list of 15 or 20 things,” Hodge said, “one of my students said ‘No! No! Don’t say anymore. I can’t fold my paper anymore.’”

Hodge said she then has the students unfold their piece of paper.

“I explain to them that every crease they see on that paper is a time they’ve bullied someone, and they weren’t even aware of it,” Hodge said.

Then their jaws usually drop, she said.

The activity is called “Wrinkle on my Heart,” and its goal is to promote anti-bullying.

Hodge presented the Committee to Promote Respect in Schools - CYPRESS’ - anti-bullying project dubbed HEART to a worldwide audience at the National Association for Gifted Children last month in Phoenix, Arizona.

“It was a great experience,” Hodge said. “I never really saw myself presenting at any national conference or anything, but I would do it again. People seemed very interested in it because it is, unfortunately, everywhere. I don’t have the answer on how to stop it, but I have ideas on how to make people think about it.”

CYPRESS, founded in 1999, aims to build respect and diversity in schools throughout the Evansville community. The organization offers teacher workshops and lesson plans related to major historical events such as the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Now the organization, led by current and former teachers and other volunteers, has rolled out HEART, which Hodge has played a major part in.

“We wanted to develop an anti-bullying project because it’s a problem,” she said. “I don’t know that it will ever go away.”

CYPRESS invited a group of Evansville teachers and administrators to join them for anti-bullying workshops and to pitch anti-bullying lessons of their own, which the organization then compiled on its websitecypressevansville.org.

CYPRESS members decided they wanted their anti-bullying project to reach a national audience, so Hodge applied to present at two different national conferences.

The National Association for Gifted Children selected 250 projects to be presented at the conference out of 860 proposals, Hodge said. Hers was one of them.

Some of Hodge’s students helped her prepare for the presentation, including Maggie Lowe, an 8th grade student at Thompkins. She put together the slideshow Hodge used during her presentation at the conference.

“For an 8th grade student, it’s amazing,” Hodge said. “So many people asked, ‘Who did you have do that?’ I was like, ‘Just one of my former students.’ I thought it was good to have a student do it because she knows the student perspective of bullying.”

Lowe conducted her own research to put the slideshow together. She scoured statistics about bullying and hunted for quotes related to it.

“I really wanted to do it,” Lowe said. “I thought it was a really neat project.”

She said she’s never experienced bullying, but she’s seen it.

“I think cyberbullying occurs more often because of all of the social media and things,” Lowe said.

One of the main issues facing students and schools today is cyberbullying, said Hodge, who has been with the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation for 25 years.

“If it’s on their phone, that’s not our technology piece,” she said, “so I don’t know how much the school can do about that.”

The most common bullying Hodge sees or hears about though, at least at Thompkins, is 8th graders picking on 6th graders.

“Sometimes I think some of the older kids think it’s kind of funny to accidentally bump into the littler ones,” Hodge said. “But it’s not accidental, and it’s intimidating to the younger kids.”

She said it’s important for students to talk about bullying when it happens.

“It can really do a lot of damage if you just let it go,” she said.

Through CYPRESS, Hodge has been awarded various opportunities, including having Holocaust survivors speak to her classes.

HEART lessons can easily be incorporated into any K-12 classroom, Hodge said, regardless of the subject.

“In an English class, it’s very easy,” she said. “You can use that topic for anything. For reading, you can find articles on it.”

There are close to 100 free lessons on CYPRESS’ website ranging from five minute activities to ones that fill entire class periods.

“Sometimes I think it’s the lack of awareness that is the reason we still have bullying,” Hodge said. “I think if people really had to sit and do a 15 minute activity, I think the next time, before they started to bully someone, they’d think, ‘Oh, maybe this person will take it this way,’ and they wouldn’t do it.”

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Source: The Evansville Courier & Press, http://bit.ly/1Xt6zv6

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com

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