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Theatre Alum Works to "Box Out" Bullying

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Jeremy Rubenstein

Jeremy Rubenstein has Penn State degrees in theatre, communications and history, as well as certificates in art education (Long Island University) and eccentric performance (Celebration Barn Theater). So does he teach? Yes. Does he perform? Yes. Does he write? Yes. Is he a man on a mission? A resounding yes.

That mission is to educate school-age children and youth across the country about the national epidemic of bullying and how to prevent it. Jeremy is founder and creative director of Box Out Bullying (BOB), which offers comprehensive programs on bullying that combine interactive, live theater with research-based bullying prevention techniques.

“When I started the program in 2008, bullying was a ‘whisper’ in mainstream society. But it was an issue that wasn’t getting the attention it needed,” he said.

Immediately after graduating from Penn State, Jeremy worked as an actor in regional theatre, national tours and feature films. However, as a social activist from a young age, he knew he needed to channel his passion for helping people. When educators came to him seeking assistance with their bullying prevention initiatives, Box Out Bullying was born. He spent months researching existing programs, speaking to educators and experts in the field, and workshopping different options in order to develop the most engaging presentation.

 “The programming we offer is comprehensive, research-based, and age-appropriate. One of the keys to our success, and why I think Box Out Bullying is so great, is that we make it a celebration. We give answers. We want to give students the tools they need to be resilient by addressing potential problems and creating empathy among the students.”

Jeremy said his experiences at Penn State—on stage, in student films, as a playwright and as a director—gave him the courage to launch BOB. “I was given so many invaluable opportunities at Penn State. I was able to hone my skills on what I really liked, and what I was really good at: writing, directing, researching, making things engaging and captivating. These opportunities at Penn State gave me confidence. Ultimately, any ‘failure’ that I had at the beginning, I learned from—and quickly!” 

Since Jeremy started BOB in 2008, bullying has become an issue that affects not only a school, but the entire school community. “Often I’m asked, ‘why do people bully?’ I think it’s something that starts at home.”

The advent of social media—and the increasingly younger age of social media users—has exacerbated the problem. “Putting mature technology into the hands of children—who are not as mature—now enables people to taunt and torment others at home. In the past, home was a place that was a refuge.”

The nature of bullying has also changed. When Jeremy first started the program, he found many students suffering in silence. “Now we have lots of children coming forward—which is great—but they seem to think that everything is bullying: ‘She called me creepy.’ ‘He cut in line.’ That’s not bullying; that’s conflict. And conflicts will happen.”

According to Jeremy, bullying is when a stronger person repeatedly hurts or frightens a less strong person who cannot easily defend himself. “From this simple definition—something that a student in kindergarten should understand—we see that bullying consists of three components: it happens on purpose, it is repeated over time and there is an imbalance of power.” 

Bullying is no longer a “whisper” in mainstream society, and BOB is in high demand. The company averages five presentations a week, traveling to more than 120 schools nationwide each year for assemblies and faculty and parent workshops. More than 100,000 students will experience Box Out Bullying at schools and special events across the country during the 2014–15 school year.

Box Out Bullying has several new initiatives in the works, including a non-profit that will bring bullying prevention programming to Title I schools, a teleplay tentatively set to air on PBS affiliate stations, and programming for high school and college students that addresses bystander empowerment and hazing prevention.

Bullying prevention is about more than stopping mean or intimidating behavior, Jeremy noted. BOB programming addresses kids’ feelings and actions in the here and now—and in the future. “Developing good people who are good citizens is as critical a goal in our educational system as any of our other goals. It’s something that the entire school community needs to take very seriously—and they know this. I’m very optimistic about the future.”

For more information on Box Out Bullying, visit www.boxoutbullying.com.