Sergey Grankin sat on a toilet on a small stage in Mary Cooper’s Ferris High School classroom last week. “I’m optimistic about vomiting,” he said. “If you knew every time you gave me a swirly you were gonna have to go home and change your pants, you’d think twice. It’s the power of retaliatory vomiting.”
Grankin and members of the Ferris drama department were rehearsing a one-act play, “Thank You for Flushing My Head in the Toilet and Other Rarely Used Expressions.” The play, along with a student film and a student-written one-act, are part of “Project Hope: Stop the Bullying.”
The drama is being performed this week at Ferris. “It’s the culmination of a year of work on how to stop bullying in our schools,” Cooper said.
Last semester the drama class visited local elementary schools and performed skits to explain to younger students about bullying and how it can escalate.
Proceeds raised by ticket sales, a bake sale and raffle baskets will go to SMILE (Students Mastering Important Lifeskills Education), a nonprofit founded by the family of former Ferris student Craig Toribara.
Toribara, a musically gifted, athletically talented honor student, committed suicide in 1995 at age 17.
“Bullying can come from teachers, church leaders, coaches and family members,” said Christie Toribara, Craig’s mother. “Bullying can come from anywhere and everywhere.”
As the rehearsal progressed, during a mock spelling bee – keyword “mock” – a chorus of students repeated taunts and words often used by bullies in the callous, bored tone teenagers can be so adept at.
The words echoed in the classroom, and they sounded familiar to Isabella Trujillo, 17. “I had a horrible time in middle school,” she said. “Terrible bullying!”
She’s found a haven in Cooper’s drama class. “Theater has been a way for me to open myself up. I love it – it’s like a family.”
Cooper said, “The kids get this. It’s real to them.”
Two of her students, Danielle Reinkens and Andi Blom, wrote a one-act play, “Snow White: Bullying Never After” that is included in the Project Hope performances. In their play, Snow White is bullied mercilessly by all she meets. “Until she realizes the magic in herself and saves herself and the kingdom from the evil queen’s curse,” Reinkens said.
Julia Hassert, an exchange student from Germany, will present her short film, “Don’t Touch Me.” The film tells the story of a high school girl who is bullied to the point of suicide. “But her dad interrupts her,” Hassert said. She said the point of her film is, “Whatever you have, enjoy it. Life is precious.”
For Cooper, seeing her students pull together to tackle such an important issue is priceless. She teared up after the rehearsal. “Seeing this makes my job not a job,” she said. “It brings these kids so close together.”
Toribara expressed gratitude that the Ferris students are addressing bullying. It reflects the underlying message of SMILE. “Helping one another and being kind is extremely important,” she said. “We have a responsibility to each other in our community.”
Students like Trujillo understand that message. Her dark eyes flashed. “I am a much stronger person now,” she said. “The stuff I went through beat me down but it also made me strong.”