Joplin elementary-school pupils got an important anti-bullying lesson on Tuesday.
The Teen Nation Tour, promoted by Wilson Star Entertainment, brings young recording artists to schools to perform and talk to students about bullying prevention and anti-bullying efforts. The tour visited Eastmorland Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon and was scheduled to visit a handful of other Joplin schools today before leaving the area.
Chris McWilliams, Eastmorland’s counselor, said tour organizers called her a few months ago and asked if they could perform at the school for free.
“I think it’s fantastic,” she said of the overall performance of the young singers. “The students are totally engaged in their music, and they’re hearing their message.”
That message coincides perfectly with the anti-bullying club that McWilliams started at the school last year. The club is open to fourth- and fifth-graders to help give them the tools they need to deal with bullying situations.
“Too many times, adults will say, ‘Kids will be kids,’ but it goes beyond that,” she said. “It’s mean. I think when we give them strategies (to cope with it), they feel empowered. I’m hoping that I’m instilling those life skills of self-advocacy.”
Fifth-grader Colton Richardson said he loved the assembly, particularly the concert-like atmosphere with the performers.
“You got to dance, you got to jump around, you got to get autographs” of the singers, he said.
But the take-away message wasn’t lost in the shuffle of music for Colton, who said he learned how to deal with instances of bullying.
“It teaches you to stand up against bullying, to go tell a teacher, a principal, a trusted adult, a parent, and get them to go take care of the problem,” he said.
Fifth-grader Reece Schroer also said she enjoyed the show. Sitting in the back with her friends, Reece spent most of the assembly dancing, singing, jumping up and down, and waving her arms in the air in time with the music.
“They all had beautiful voices, and I liked how they made it into a dance party and they put meaning into it,” she said.
She, too, said she learned something from the singers’ stories.
“You’ve got to speak up for kids that are being bullied and if you’re being bullied,” she said.
Katie Akin, a 14-year-old from Atlanta, was one of the tour’s seven performers. She said the tour is an opportunity for her to share her passion for singing and also to share her own experiences with bullying.
“I’ve been bullied in the past, since elementary school, and it got worse in middle school,” she said. “(The tour) teaches kids what to do if they’re in a bullying situation or if they’re a bystander.”
Another performer, 15-year-old Katie Steel from south Florida, said she joined the tour because she loves singing and because she wanted to spread the word to children about bullying and how to deal with it.
“I perform motivational songs and talk to them,” she said. “Bullying is something that’s been part of my life. I was made fun of because I was short, and I’ve had family and friends who have been bullied.”
Although it was Steel’s first time in Joplin, her connection with the city goes back a few years. After the May 2011 tornado, Steel — a seventh-grader at the time — organized a drive at her school to collect canned goods, school supplies and other items to donate to relief and recovery efforts in Joplin.
“When I heard that Joplin was one of the places on the tour, I was really excited,” she said.
About 28 percent of students in grades 6-12 experience bullying, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics.