You may recall a moment of your life, during your childhood days on the playground, where you were bullied for something that you could not (or would not) change. Maybe your ethnicity, or the fact that you had glasses on or talked with a lisp, were opportunities for bullies to pick on you. Nowadays, old-fashioned schoolyard bullying has expanded to include cyber-bullying as well, and continues to be a prominent issue for schools across the nation.
Adele Rosen, director of the Beyond Tolerance Center, is on a mission to teach schoolchildren in Santa Barbara County about the causes, instruments, and dangers of discrimination and violence. Operating under the umbrella of the Santa Barbara County Education Office, Beyond Tolerance has been going to more than 30 schools in the county for 13 years.
Just this past week, a theatrical group based out of Seattle, called Living Voices, performed for fifth through 12th grade students thanks to the efforts of Beyond Tolerance. The programs the group puts on include multimedia performances in which an actor interacts with footage of stories of young people in history. Katjana Vadeboncoeur, an actress with the troupe and former student of Hope Elementary in Santa Barbara, made her way back to the community to play the role of Anne Frank’s best friend, Sarah, in a performance entitled Through the Eyes of a Friend.
The play was showcased at Goleta Valley Junior High School on March 10 to a crowd of over 300 students. It included archived footage of events surrounding the Nazi concentration camps during War World II. A live performance by Vadeboncoeur was constructed as if the she were having a live interaction with Anne Frank and her diary. The actress said that teaching students about historical injustices provides them with a sense of understanding and sympathy.
“I think for me, personally, one of the reasons to know our history is to understand other people’s points of view. [With regard to] the Anne frank presentation, there are not enough students that really know what happened during World War II,” she said, “and I want them to see what it looks like on a real person’s face . . . What would it be like if that was my best friend?” Vadeboncoeur said. “I think it personalizes it in a way that a lot of other history [lessons] can’t.”
Approximately 10,000 school kids saw the Anne Frank Through the Eyes of a Friend performance 14 years ago when Living Voices premiered it for students in Santa Barbara County, and Rosen wanted to bring the troupe back to the community. “Twenty years later [Living Voices] is actually going into a second generation of students and we’re affecting social change by their sense of understanding,” Vadeboncoeur said, “and I think that’s amazing.”
The program continues to be presented to students at no cost but Rosen emphasized that it is a donation-driven program and the community plays a big role in funding it. “[We] need to educate our children of the causes of hatred and prejudice and to promote education,” Rosen said.