Energetic, edgy music kicks off a 40-minute multimedia production in the high school auditorium at Pittsburg High in California. A slide flashes up on the screen that reads, “Let’s talk about consent and boundaries.”
What follows next is a video, acted out by Pittsburg High students and directed and filmed by Educational Theatre staff:
“So here’s the 411… Lisa has a new boyfriend named Jamal… Jamal’s best friend is Tyrone. Meet Tyrone. Now that you know who’s who, peep the situation!”
Teens in the audience learn that Tyrone’s been flirting with Lisa, but only when Jamal isn’t around. The video clip ends with Tyrone talking to Lisa, who is alone in a school stairwell. When he moves in to hug her, she keeps him at a distance. Rejected, Tyrone asks, “What’s the matter? Can’t I hug you?”
Fade out with a close-up freeze of Lisa pushing away Tyrone and establishing boundaries.
A slide pops up on screen the reads, “What do you think?” A discussion ensues among the teen audience.
Students teaching students
For seven months, Educational Theatre staff from Kaiser Permanente met at least weekly with several Pittsburg High students to teach them basic acting and theatre training, issues education, and techniques for working with their peers on issues of cyberbullying, peer pressure, and consent and boundaries.
The effort was in partnership with Family Purpose, a nonprofit working in schools to support healthy lifestyle choices. Family Purpose formed the in-school group at Pittsburg High to give at-risk students an opportunity to develop their leadership skills and encourage their academic achievements.
Empowered to spread the word to other teens about aspects of healthy relationships, the student group developed several reality-based scenarios, acting them out on video and then using the video clips to host three talk-show style presentations, stirring the minds of over 300 other middle and high school students, parents, and staff.
The presentation segues to peer pressure and a video clip tells us, “Friends should always have each other’s back… Right?” But what if your friend is asking you to hold her stash because the police dogs are coming next class period?
The presentation closes with the critical issue of cyberbullying, organized in the same format. Pittsburg High students act out on video a challenging situation with serious ramifications. Then the slide “What do you think?” followed by discussion.
“It’s important to keep learning about these topics,” declares a final slide in the presentation. It’s a fitting conclusion to a project that demonstrates the desire of the Family Purpose students to continue learning about healthy boundaries and relationships and sharing their knowledge and competence with their peers.
“These students have shown they are self-confident leaders and knowledgeable peer educators,” says Family Purpose executive director, Shanae Bullock, “The consistency and dedication that [Educational Theatre staff and the trainer] had towards the girls of Family Purpose was priceless. I know the girls will keep the experience they had with Kaiser Permanente for a lifetime.”