Erica McElroy says the assemblies she takes to schools have exploded in popularity.
In 2013, the owners of Austin’s House of Torment and San Antonio’s 13th Floor joined up to create a program that would make an impression on local kids during October, which is National Bullying Prevention Month. In 2016, McElroy’s team visited 40 Austin–area schools. Last year, it was 60. This year, who knows?
The program is called “Don’t Be a Monster,” an anti–bullying presentation targeted to 4th through 10th graders. For about six weeks each fall, McElroy and her team connect with students, talk about the “7 Steps to Being an Upstander”—as opposed to a bystander—and introduce Frank, a Frankenstein’s monster–inspired character that teaches kids not to judge a book by its cover.
Dipping into its haunted house talent pool, the “Don’t Be a Monster” assemblies give students an up–close look at a “real” monster. But perhaps the biggest thrill of all, at least if you’re a teacher or administrator, is that the program is free.
How do they do it? McElroy chatted with us recently about the program and its growth.
AFM: What happens in a “Don’t Be a Monster” assembly?
McElroy: We explain the difference between bullying and rude behavior, and then we show a couple of videos. We introduce Frank at the beginning of the presentation, but we don’t bring him out until the end. We say that, “he might look different, he might act different, but that doesn’t mean that he’s not like us.” We treat him with respect. We let the kids know that they can’t scream at him.
We make sure he’s not presented as a scary figure. We’ve learned that 3rd graders and under don’t understand that he’s not scary, and we don’t want him to come off that way. That’s why we do our presentations for 4th through 10th grade.
But we’ve had kids as young as 4th graders come up and talk to us about how they’ve been having suicidal thoughts. So, while we bring out Frank we leave up a slide of resources, and we give out wristbands. On the inside, it says, “You matter,” and has the national suicide prevention hotline. We want to put resources in the hands of every child we come in contact with.
AFM: Is Frank a bully or a victim?
McElroy: He’s a victim. He’s someone who is bullied. We teach that the people who are doing the bullying, we don’t call them “bullies,” because that defines who they are. If we tell them they are bullying, then we can help them. We want to help the victim and the person doing the bullying.
AFM: How do the kids respond?
McElroy: Really well. Our presentation is very interactive. We get them very involved, so they’re not just staring at a slide and not taking anything in. The schools say the kids all wear their wristbands and throughout the year, they work on the seven steps we give them to prevent bullying in their school. We love it. It gives you such a good feeling after leaving those presentations.
And we change the presentation every year. We have schools that we go to every year, and they love it. All the presentations have the same message, and Frank is always involved, but it’s a different presentation every year.
AFM: How is this assembly free?
McElroy: We spend a lot of time fundraising. We’re looking for a local sponsor so we can keep providing free presentations and wristbands.
AFM: How does a school request an assembly?
McElroy: Visit our website, dontbeamonster.org. There’s a link and a form to fill out. Then, our Don’t Be a Monster program manager will reach out and set up dates and times. We don’t like to turn schools away, but we have had to, only because of scheduling conflicts. We get so booked up.
The 7 Steps to Being an “Upstander”
Courtesy of Don’t Be a Monster
- Refuse to be a bystander. Always be an upstander.
- Know the bullying policy at your school. What does your school’s policy mean to you?
- Make a new friend. Sit with a new friend at lunch or make a new friend at recess.
- Don’t allow untrue or hurtful messages to spread. Understand how rumors get started.
- Respect people’s differences and love your own. It’s important to respect yourself and others.
- If it’s safe, do something. More than half the time, bullying stops if someone intervenes.
- Report the incident. There’s a huge difference between tattling and reporting bullying. When you tattle, you’re trying to get someone in trouble, but when you report bullying, you’re getting someone out of trouble.
by Sherida Mock