An Arizona teen has gained praise for an interactive program he created to combat bullying.
It's called The Be O.N.E. (Open to New Experiences) Project geared specifically to middle school students.
"To get them to realize that we're more alike than we think we are. So that we should celebrate the ways that we're similar and not criticize each other for the ways that we're different," said program creator Matthew Kaplan.
The 16-year-old says the day of games, activities and small guided group discussions uses a "positive" peer pressure approach.
"We try to harness peer pressure toward inclusiveness not exclusiveness. Like, what if it were cool to be kind? And that's what the program is all about," Kaplan added.
One of the most popular and emotional of the exercises is what student participants call "the line." They all stand on one line, on one side of the room. When Matthew calls out categories or descriptions that they can identify with, they move to a second line on the other side of the room.
"This is a really powerful activity because it's a physical movement where kids are making themselves vulnerable and saying, ‘I am part of this group, I have experienced this,'" Kaplan said.
Seventh grade student Kevin Vishteh said the exercise was very impactful.
"I think it really opened people's eyes and let them see that they're not alone, and I think it was really meaningful to a lot of people," he said.
Lindsey Martin, another seventh grade student, agrees. "It showed me that everyone has things and I'm not alone," she said.
The idea for The Be O.N.E. Project stemmed from a personal experience. Matthew's younger brother Josh became a victim of bullying in grade school.
"He started receiving text messages from his classmates that were like, ‘you suck. You're a jerk'… When you get messages like that you start to think, wait, maybe I do suck," Kaplan recalled.
Josh is no longer bullied and credits Matthew's program with helping to change some preconceived attitudes.
"I think a lot of kids are realizing that bullying isn't okay and it shouldn't be happening, and by being a bystander they're not taking action against bullying," he said.
Click The Be O.N.E. Project to learn more about the program.
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