Matthew Kaplan, 18, of Phoenix, Ariz., a senior at Tesseract School, created a four-hour interactive educational program that is helping to discourage bullying among middle level students throughout Arizona and beyond. Several years ago, Matthew watched with dismay as his younger brother was bullied at school by former friends. The bullies werent bad kids, said Matthew, yet, inexplicably, once they were armed with cell phones and social media, they launched words at him that were far more harmful than sticks and stones. I wanted somebody to make them understand the pain they were causing. By the time Matthew had finished eighth grade, he realized that somebody would have to be him.
Recognizing that middle level students are particularly susceptible to peer pressure, Matthew began thinking of a way to capture and reverse that pressure, so that students challenge each other to support rather than discourage each other, he said. He developed a series of non-competitive group games, small-team challenges and guided discussions designed to foster empathy and mutual respect, and assembled them into a four-hour program called Be ONE (Open to New Experiences). Matthew has introduced the program to schools in Arizona, California, Virginia and Indiana; taken it to youth groups and libraries; and promoted it widely through speaking engagements and a TV public service announcement. Through his program, more than 3,500 students so far have been shown they can wield their power to build each other up, rather than tear each other down, said Matthew.