From Bully to Warrior

How an arts residency helped one student change his ways

This story was shared with us by teaching artist Karen Light about one of her recent visual arts residencies with third and fourth grade students. For the sake of anonymity, we’re omitting the school name and giving the student a pseudonym. The specificity of this story shows the enormous impact that an arts experience can have on a young person, and the universality of its themes shows us that this could be any student at any school.

Justin made a huge impact on me. About halfway through the residency, I had another student start crying during the mid-morning break. He told me that he was really afraid to walk home after the workshop because Justin always bullies him. A few girls spoke up and said they had the same problem.

I had a talk with Justin. I told him how much I loved having him in my class because he was very talented, smart and full of energy. When I brought up that other kids were afraid of him, he was incredibly defensive at first. I assured him that I was not accusing him of anything, but just trying to figure out why they are afraid and asked him if he wanted them to be afraid of him. He sadly shook his head no and became very contemplative. For the next [project], I decided to make Warrior Shields and really talk about the difference between being a warrior and a bully. My volunteer and I acted out situations as a bully would, in a mean and degrading way. Then we acted out how a warrior would draw the line and strongly say that it was unacceptable without resorting to demeaning behavior/words.

Students shared their stories. We talked about how everyone has a bully and a warrior in them, and it’s up to you each and every time something happens [to decide] which one you will be.

The last day of the residency, Justin demonstrated to us that this really sank in for him. As we were doing an improv theater exercise, another student (Alex) was acting like a bully (he came up with it on his own!) and students were trying to convince him to not be a bully. Justin wanted to give it a try.

When Justin told Alex not to be a bully, Alex laughed at Justin and told him that he was a bully too. Justin said that he didn’t want to be a bully anymore. He was changing and wanted to be a Warrior. He said he cared about Alex as a friend and wanted him to change too. Alex was convinced!

Then, Justin said he was going to cut the center out of a big piece of cardboard when he got home to act as a pretend tv screen. He was going to use the mask and warrior shield he made during our workshops to create a tv show about warriors and bullies!

–Urban Gateways teaching artist Karen Light