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Docudrama produced at Hernando school focuses on bullying

SPRING HILL — The scene: A girl stands at a window ledge, her brow furrowed, mouth turned down at the edges. The picture is black and white.

Cue the sound of a spooky wind. A wisp of hair floats in slow motion above the girl's face as she looks down into the camera, then up to the sky.

Fade to black.

Does she jump? Or does someone come to her rescue?

An audience found out Thursday night during the premiere of a docudrama called Dear World. Produced by students and the staff at Explorer K-8 School, the project aims to highlight the effects of bullying.

After the credits rolled at Springstead Theater, the audience of students, parents, teachers and School Board members stood and applauded. Superintendent Bryan Blavatt and Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis were among them.

Amy Ranger, the teacher who envisioned the movie, clutched a bouquet of flowers and wiped tears as her co-producer, fellow Explorer teacher Jason Yungmann, stood beside her, beaming in dark suit and tie.

It was a triumphant moment for a crew that spent months on the project.

The climax of the movie — the girl on the ledge contemplating suicide — captures in fiction a tragic reality that spurred the project beyond the five-minute public service announcement Ranger had initially envisioned.

Ranger brainstormed with her 18-year-old daughter, Leah, a student at Springstead High, and they started working on a script. Yungmann would help write and direct the piece, and principal John Stratton gave the okay. They shot the movie on location at the school.

"After each shoot, it began to grow into something more meaningful," Ranger told the audience before the lights went down.

The 30-minute movie tells the story of a bully named Felecia, played by seventh-grader Breanna Johnson, and her victim, Nicole, portrayed by eighth-grader Nicole Genova. Woven within the plot are interviews and statistics.

Stratton helps define bullying. School psychologist Constance Cordill explains the effects. Hernando Deputy Michael Beckwith, a school resource officer, offers a boots-on-the-ground perspective. And a group of Explorer students explains why they think students bully.

"Insecure," they say at one point, almost in chorus.

At one point, a tearful Ranger recalled her own pain as a victim of bullying.

"You can still feel the hurt," she said.

There were some tough scenes for the stars. In one, Breanna dumps salad on top of Nicole's head. In another, Nicole takes a tumble on the hard tile floor of the school hallway after Johnson pushes her from behind.

Breanna didn't have experience as a bully. After the premiere, Stratton called her "one of the sweetest young ladies you'll ever meet."

Breanna can relate to harassment from peers. She was picked on in fifth grade and, more recently, was among a group of Explorer girls called a derogatory name on an anonymous Facebook site. Breanna made it through fine, but others aren't so fortunate, she said earlier this month.

"When someone is bullied, they may not show the pain then, but they will show it later," she said.

Nicole admits she once picked on a girl.

"I realized how stupid it was of me," she said.

Passionate about acting, she was able to conjure real tears as the on-screen victim. It's the editing, though, that makes the movie, she said.

"I think it's beautiful," Genova said. "Mr. Yungmann and Mrs. Ranger have done an amazing job putting it together."

One audience member in particular agreed, and her review bodes well for the Explorer crew's hopes to have the docudrama shown in middle and high schools throughout Florida.

Brooks Rumenik, director of the Safe Schools program for the Florida Department of Education, traveled from Tallahassee for the premiere. Rumenik said she would gladly encourage districts in Florida to use the movie as a resource, but wouldn't stop there.

"The rest of the country is dealing with these same issues," she said.

The production quality makes the movie credible, Rumenik said. But more valuable is that it was created in large part by students, for students.

"They listen to each other," Rumenik said, "and it's more believable."

Yungmann said there is one ultimate measure of success: "For kids to write to our school and say, 'Your movie saved my life.' "

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Docudrama produced at Hernando school focuses on bullying 04/16/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 16, 2011 12:53pm]
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