Seeing the student body of a junior high school laughing at a presentation to promote anti-bullying may sound concerning at first, but when the presentation is delivered by comedian and inspiration speaker Keith Deltano, it is impossible not to laugh. And that’s the point.
In his presentation “Don’t Bully,” former public school teacher Deltano uses comedy as a tool to reach students in regards to all forms of bullying, cliques and having the courage to stand up for yourself. Yesterday, Deltano brought this unique presentation to all three Warwick junior highs, starting with an 8 a.m. assembly for seventh graders at Aldrich Junior High, followed by a presentation for the eighth graders.
“Comedy is just a tool for keeping the attention of eighth graders on a Monday morning,” said Deltano prior to his second of four performances yesterday.
It worked. Deltano had the eighth grade class laughing from the start of his energetic presentation. Moving throughout the auditorium throughout the 45-minute presentation, he kept the energy high, acting out stereotypical “cliques” such as athletes or mean girls.
Aside from the comedy, what makes Deltano’s approach to anti-bullying unique is instead of only demonstrating the bystander/bully/victim dynamic (which is acted out with the help of volunteers), he uses his experience as a teacher in the culture of a public school to show students why they do what they do.
During the presentation, Deltano touched on four areas of bullying: physical, verbal, online and exclusion, which he called “the most painful thing going on in the eighth grade right now.”
Deltano also told the students that he saw the cliques when he arrived at the building, whether it was sitting on the steps before school or even deciding where to sit in the auditorium.
He addresses those cliques, status clothing, being the “weird” kid (which he says he was) and how it is OK to be different, all while using over exaggerated voices and movements to keep the kids attention. His performance style is very similar to a motivational speaker.
Deltano also shared personal stories of how he was bullied in school and even bullied by teachers who told him he would never go to college or amount to anything.
“No one messed with me physically, but they messed with my head and that’s worse,” said Deltano.
He encouraged the students to stop thriving on drama, stop worrying about appearance, and find their worth in who they are.
“My value comes from who I am. I’m a Wal-Mart shopper and I’m proud,” announced Deltano, resulting in roars of laughter from the audience.
So what made Deltano want to use comedy to address bullying in schools.
“I was a classroom teacher,” said Deltano, who taught at the middle school level for a time. “I saw all these issues occurring.”
Deltano also spent time as a military police officer and would use comedy to diffuse tense situations. Now he uses comedy to speak to students about serious issues in a way they will understand and relate to.
While Deltano’s performance is a lot of fun to watch, he said there are also life-changing moments he hopes will have an affect on the kids.
“There will be moments when you can hear a pin drop,” he said.
One of those moments was when Deltano mentioned a Centers for Disease Control statistic that 20 percent of students between 6th and 12th grade will consider suicide, cutting or harming themselves in another way.
“Don’t harm yourself. Please get help,” said Deltano.
Deltano may use comedy to get the message across to his audience, but there is more to it.
“I do a tremendous amount of research. Even though you think you’re watching an interactive comedy show, there’s research behind it,” said Deltano.
Following the presentations, acting Aldrich Principal Allie Nascenzi was impressed not only with how engrossed her students were but with Deltano’s overall presentation as well.
“I think they reacted. He had them enraptured; he had them all engaged,” said Nascenzi. “For an auditorium of eighth graders to sit silent and hang on his every word is no small feat.”
Watching her seventh and eighth grade students eagerly volunteer to get on stage and help Deltano with his presentation also told her that they bought into what he was saying.
School Committee member Gene Nadeau also attended the early performance and hoped that the students bought into the message as much as they bought into Deltano’s comedy.
“It’s an opportune time to have this message. Hopefully, this will impact them over the summer before they head to high school,” he said.
Nadeau said he sees a difference in students today, a “hardness” he believes comes from what they see on television, in movies or on the different social media sites they use.
“Hopefully, something like this will have an effect on them,” he said.
Deltano was equally impressed with the students at Aldrich, as well as their teachers, administrators and guidance counselors.
“I just want to applaud them. A lot of systems are being passive,” said Deltano, adding that many school systems he has visited deny there is any kind of problem. “They [Warwick] are making a stand…this school is being proactive.”