BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Two major conferences are coming to town to address bullying on school campuses, and Compton Jr. High School is looking to partner with other schools to bring in singer Keenan West next month.
He's the Internet sensation whose music video about standing up to bullies went viral and won him wide praise from education groups. The Cincinnati-based singer and songwriter now tours the country doing anti-bullying shows at schools.
* The Bullying Prevention Workshop is 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Jan. 29 at Hilton Garden Inn Hotel and Conference Center, 3625 Marriott Drive in Bakersfield. It is for professional educators only. Cost is $209 for the first registration, $169 each additional. Fee includes lunch and resource materials. Register online at http://isolutionsgroup.org. For information, call Dennis Lewis at 417-880-5895.
* The 18th annual autism awareness conference, "Bullying and Autism," is 8:45 a.m. March 1 at Hodel's banquet hall, 5917 Knudsen St. For information, call 588-4235 or log onto http://kernautism.org/.
"There are a lot of really good organizations presenting this kind of material, but I add the music, which makes young people pay more attention," West said. "I get them up singing and dancing before we get into the serious stuff."
The music video for West's song "Never Ever (The Bully Project)" was filmed with 40 drama club students from Sycamore Jr. High School in Montgomery, Ohio. The video was a response to a Sycamore student's bully-related suicide, and features young people banding together to support targets of bullying.
Last year, Compton Jr. High's student council asked the Compton Drama Club to write a play addressing school bullying.
The club brainstormed and wrote some skits, but was "uninspired" until it saw the video for West's song, said Compton English teacher Jennifer Scott.
The original "Compton Bully Project," performed last year, included the song, and the collaborative process of putting it together "proved to be cathartic, as many of our actors, writers, dancers and singers had been survivors of bullying -- I hesitate to call them victims," Scott said.
The school kept in touch with West after contacting him to obtain permission to use his music, and is now trying to raise money for him to come and lead one of his anti-bullying assemblies in Bakersfield.
West says he doesn't try to make a profit off his presentations, but asks for enough money to cover food, lodging and travel. The fee is $1,000 plus travel expenses.
Compton wants to bring West to town the first week of February and is hoping it can go in with another school to cover his expenses.
Bullying was on the radar of local school administrators already, but has taken on added urgency since the Jan. 10 Taft Union High School shooting that left a 16-year-old critically injured.
Bryan Oliver, 16, told authorities that he targeted classmates at the school because he believed he'd been bullied for more than a year. He entered a not guilty plea at an arraignment Monday to two counts of attempted murder and three counts of assault with a firearm.
Two conferences on how to prevent and deal with bullying are coming to town in the next few months. They were scheduled before the Taft shooting, but now seem to be particularly relevant.
A Bullying Prevention Workshop for educators is Jan. 29 at Hilton Garden Inn Hotel and Conference Center while a "Bullying and Autism" event is slated for March 1 at the Hodel's banquet hall. That one is open to the public.
The Bullying Prevention Workshop is sponsored by iSolutionsGroup, a Springfield, Mo.-based consortium of education professionals that trains other educators in effective teaching strategies, especially for students with special instructional needs.
Dennis K. Lewis, founder of school safety consulting firm Edu-Safe and past president of the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officers, will lead the workshop.
Lewis said there's been a small spike in registrations since the shooting in Taft.
"We're doing five workshops all over California, but unfortunately there is particular resonance for you over there now," he said.
Among other topics, the workshop will cover prevention, litigation and liability.
The Kern Autism Network of Bakersfield, a chapter of the national Autism Society, is sponsoring its 18th annual autism awareness conference, "Bullying and Autism."
The conference features two speakers: Dr. Lori Ernsperger, author, behavior analyst and owner of Autism & Behavioral Consulting; and Laura Nagle, a motivational speaker and advocate for the autistic who is on the autism spectrum.
Ernsperger said the need for education about autism is doubly important since the media reported rumors that Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza was autistic.
The diagnosis was never confirmed by any official source, Ernsperger said. But even if he was, it's not pertinent, she said.
"There aren't any studies that show that people on the (autism) spectrum are any more apt to commit acts of planned violence than any of the rest of us," Ernsperger said.
What is clear, she said, is that 88 percent of people on the spectrum have been bullied in schools, compared to 30 percent of their typical peers.
"That's due to a lot of the inability to communicate and social impairments," Ernsperger said. "This isn't specific to California or the United States. It's a global issue, and it has to be addressed."
WATCH WEST'S VIDEO
Keenan West "Never Ever" music video: