These days, when we collect statistics about every subject under the sun, there are still no reliable figures showing how many children suffer from bullying. Every year one or two child suicides hit the headlines but many other victims suffer in silence. In their efforts to confront the problem, schools have started looking at drama and storytelling to explore the emotional cost of bullying. One creative solution has come from three schools in Handsworth, Birmingham - Lisa's No Pizza is a high-quality online animation site.
The project, developed by Hi8us and supported by Birmingham Children's Fund, started with some drama workshops run by a company called Sister Tree. These brought together a group of 30 pupils aged 10-12 from Mayfield Special School, Holte Secondary School and Heathfield Primary. The idea was to focus on transition - going up to secondary - which is a very anxious period for so many children and a key time for bullying.
As the improvisation developed and characters and situations emerged, a writer produced a script and an illustrator was commissioned to make it look real. The pupils were involved in a range of workshops from script writing to animation and the resulting website is their vision, as interpreted by professionals.
Lisa's No Pizza is an excellent online interactive drama which could be used by individuals or for group discussion, perhaps via a whiteboard. The storyline will be familiar to many children: Lisa is being bullied by a fellow pupil called Mayid. He gets other children to back him up and they make Lisa's life a misery. She gets cold-shouldered, picked on and laughed at. She is nervous and quite moody and it is affecting her both at home and at school. There are a number of crisis points where the action could go either way. Should she tell her family or keep quiet?
This is where the class gets to shape the plot. For example, a teacher comes out and sees a group of children picking up stones and threatening Lisa. Pupils have to decide what happens next. They can discuss it or develop it as a role play. There are plenty of prompts to make the process easier: who will play the different parts? Is there a leader? What does the teacher think is happening? Are there other children in the playground who are not involved?
Lisa's No Pizza was obviously a fun project for the children as some of their diaries on the website show: "We started off doing a few dances mixed with some classical music. Finally in comes the technology, the computer wizards set up a programme on the laptop so we could choose the backgrounds and the characters, then we chose the sounds and many other things."
I particularly liked Deeba's comments: "We wrote down our opinions and feelings as the bully or victim. On that day they gave us a pencil case which included a pencil, pen, badge, ruler, rubber and a little box of crayons." Forget the technical wizardry - this child knows what makes for creativity!
Lisa's No Pizza www.stopbullying.org