Puppeteers eliminating bullying, educating kids on differences

Kids on the Block Puppeteers at Huntertown Elementary School

HUNTERTOWN, Ind. (WANE) – A local group is trying to wipe out bullying in schools.  Research by the Indiana Youth Institute shows bullying is one of the leading causes of depression and suicide among young people.  This group’s hoping to break down barriers and stereotypes by using puppets.

The program is called Kids on the Block and is made possible by Mental Health America of Allen County.  Puppeteers Randi Disser and Connie Cunningham were at Huntertown Elementary Tuesday.

Disser has been putting on the program at area schools for nearly 20 years and Cunningham for about 11 years.  It’s a unique show they put on for third graders.  The program takes four weeks to complete.  The change they see in students has led them to do this in their free time for more than a decade.

“Through the years no matter what school I’ve been in or what age group, it’s (bullying) everywhere,” Kids on the Block Puppeteer Randi Disser explained.

Instead of letting children make fun of what they don’t know, these puppeteers are teaching kids about disabilities.  Both physical and mental – eliminating stigmas – using childlike puppets.

“We dress in black always so we blend in the background and the children actually talk to the puppets and it is amazing to see how they talk to the puppets and it is amazing to see how they converse with the puppets rather than with adults. They are spellbound. You can hear a pin drop. Their hands are always up to ask questions,” Kids on the Block Puppeteers Connie Cunningham said.

Not only are they teaching children about things like cerebral palsy, blindness, and learning disabilities.  In the process they say the children are becoming more mindful too.

“We’re all different, but we are still the same on the inside. They all have feelings and need to be conscious of things that they say and do and how it affects those around them,” Disser said.

Following each skit children have the chance to ask questions to the puppets.  After the four weeks are up, teachers and the puppeteers say they notice a big change in the students’ attitudes.

“They have to be aware of what they say and do. Better to learn that in third grade or even younger than to let it continue to escalate.”

The students NewsChannel 15 heard from Tuesday say they would stand up for someone getting bullied.  That’s truly the goal of this:  preventing bullying and standing up for others.

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