Davis School District officials have learned through the years that every effort -- both big and small -- helps in the fight to stop bullying in schools.
One of the district's recent efforts includes a live play performed by students from the Theatre Arts Conservatory in Salt Lake City, which is working to bring the message about bullying to nearly 30 schools in Davis School District.
The play, titled "Amukis and the Donkleberry Suitcase," is no ordinary play. It has a beginning and middle, but no ending -- a first for the group, which has been creating different plays for schools for several years.
"We see scripts all the time where the message (of bullying) is beaten over your head and it seems so obvious," said Colleen Lewis, Artistic Director at the Theatre Arts Conservatory.
Lewis said the professional director her group worked with when they created the play encouraged them to incorporate a script that allowed the audience to think about the message, rather than be told over and over again, "Here's our message. Did you get it?"
"Amukis and the Donkelberry Suitcase" is about a young girl in search of a friend. She meets several kids and attempts to be friends with them, only to be the recipient of their mean actions. There is a mysterious boy who keeps witnessing the cruel acts, but does nothing. The girl ends up disappearing, and the mysterious boy, who we learn has been bullied by the same group of kids, sets out to find her.
The play definitely left the students hanging, but it allowed Lewis to help the students think about a few things. For instance, Lewis asked the students why Amukis wanted to be friends with kids who were mean to her. She also queried: What should Amukis have done when she was feeling bullied, and why did the mysterious boy not say anything?
The students -- at each school in which the play is presented -- are encouraged to continue discussing the play with their friends, parents and teachers during class discussion times. Sixth-grader Hailee Atwater saw the play performed at her school, Heritage Elementary in Layton, on Wednesday.
"I like it because it was a little different than other plays I've seen," Hailee said.
When asked how she thought the play should end, Hailee hoped the mysterious boy would find Amukis and become her friend.
The Davis Arts Council partnered up with the Theatre Arts Conservatory to help bring pertinent issues to elementary school-aged students, especially given the focus on bullying by many school districts this year.
"We thought peers performing for kids would be the most effective way to get message-based theater across," said Kirt Batemen, executive director for the Davis Arts Council. "We're not trying to solve any major problems, but we feel if we start the conversation, it can lead back to parents and educators incorporating it into their classroom discussions.
Davis Arts Center officials hopes the play will affect as many students as possible. With 27 Davis District schools -- which translates to about 13,000 students -- viewing the play this year, the arts council is well on its way. Eventually, when it has enough funding, the council would like to provide the play to all of the schools in the district.
District officials know this is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to bully-prevention.
"This is one small piece to a much larger puzzle," said Brad Christensen, director of student services for Davis School District. "We practice a comprehensive bullying effort in the district, but we also supplement with various presentations that will impact the kids."
Christensen has received positive feedback from principals whose schools have witnessed the play. One principal he spoke to was excited to see how the students internalized what they learned from the play and put it into practice on the playground and in the halls.
"He was surprised a little bit, but really excited because they are developing a culture of caring and respect, which is exactly what we're trying to do in all of our schools."