July 15, 2008

School Performs Play About Abuse

By Kristin Babcock, The Olathe News, Kan.

Jul. 15--Every time Sam Parkinson and his acting team from Olathe Northwest High School perform "Outrage," a student audience member has questions about dating abuse. Some students want help for a friend who has been hurt. Others want help for themselves.

"In the beginning when we perform at junior high schools, they're talkative, noisy, like junior high students," Parkinson said. "At the end they are quiet and completely focused and realize it is a serious issue."

It's serious enough that last week the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) launched a campaign encouraging education of children as young as 11 about abusive dating. A reported one in three teenagers knows someone who has been punched, kicked, slapped, choked or physically hurt by a partner, according to a recent survey by Teenage Research Unlimited and Liz Claiborne, Inc. The NAAG initiative is meant to inform and educate students about the signs of verbal, emotional, physical, sexual and financial abuse.

Outrage was written by a coordinator at SAFEHOME, a support organization for domestic violence survivors. It has been performed in the last year at junior high and high schools by acting troupes in the Olathe and Shawnee Mission school districts and SAFEHOME volunteers. It sets a scene where dating violence could happen and what it looks like for a person to need to ask for help.

"The portrayal is in a simple, raw form that everyone can relate to," Parkinson said.

Parkinson, a Northwest junior, said at each performance the goal is to prevent abuse from happening to anyone else.

"The best way to prevent abuse is to break the cycle and start where it begins," Parkinson said. "Some (who abuse) were children and have abusive parents and the easiest way to prevent it is to target children and teach them what not to do. How to work out a problem without physical violence."

SAFEHOME is working to get into other schools to educate about dating violence, said Amber Bourek, SAFEHOME spokesperson. SAFEHOME currently offers fifty-minute lessons to junior high students. Lessons have been provided at Frontier Trail and Prairie Trail junior high schools.

Students learn about boundaries, respect and healthy relationships. Even in the play setting, Bourek said she was surprised at how involved students were in gaining information on dating abuse.

"It's hard to believe seventh graders have already established patterns as far as relationships go," Bourek said. "But, they are receptive to that information. I was surprised to see how many of them were willing to ask questions. They were very open to it."

Issues of teen dating and abuse are addressed in physical education classes and in the Safe and Drug Free Schools programs, said Cindy Galemore, director of health services for Olathe schools. Health curriculum in Olathe schools was updated a year ago. The tenth-grade curriculum includes lessons on recognizing components of healthy relationships. Peer pressure, mental and emotional health, goal setting and decision making are covered in the seventh-grade curriculum, Galemore said.

"An important health concept is that there are many dimensions to our health, including our physical health, mental health and social health," Galemore said. "We want students to learn how to evaluate health and how they all impact every other area."

Having seen the impact of the Outrage program, and having volunteered for SAFEHOME, Parkinson said he hopes Olathe schools do more to educate about any type of abuse.

"Kids aren't stupid. They know there are problems and at this age they can learn solutions," Parkinson said. "They can learn there is a solution and that we can stop dating violence."


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