By David Fleet
-Three schools, 1,500 students, 500 messages.
Before Tim Lavasseur returned to his Texas home following a week of coordinating student assemblies at schools in Fenton, Linden and Goodrich his Instagram Direct Message box was near capacity.
“I answered every message, too,” said Lavasseur, the founder of Bullies Reality. “Most of the messages from students are very positive, but unfortunately some can be, and are, very scary.”
On Jan. 13, Lavasseur, organizer of the Bullies Reality Foundation, along with “Big Brother” reality TV stars Natalie Negrotti and James Huling and Canadian singer Vivian Hicks, visited Goodrich Middle School. Lavasseur and volunteers from reality shows such as “Big Brother” and “Survivor”promote an anti-bullying message in schools and addressed about 400 students regarding encounters with bullies.
“I could be the guy that goes around and just tries to tell kids about the issues of bullying and the reality is they are not going to listen,” he said. “I know a lot of the TV stars can get the kids engaged, they want to be like them. So they are going to listen. It’s a different approach, but it’s effective.”
Lavasseur said viewers ages 10 to 22 watch “Big Brother,” a TV reality show centering on a group of strangers that take residence in a house surrounded by cameras and microphones. ‘Big Brother’ captures everything then the house guests vote each other out of the house until at the end of three months the last one will receive $500,000.
“The reality stars were bullied too,” he said. “For example James (Huling) was in a foster home for two years, it was not a great life. They speak to the students out of the kindness of their hearts, they are not compensated for the assemblies.”
Ryan Salter, a GMS teacher and dean of students, along with GMS Principal Kapeka von Keltz spearheaded the effort to bring Bullies Reality to the school.
“There’s always a need for a message on bullying like that,” said Salter. “In the classroom, teachers and administration can say the anti-bullying message all day long but hearing from a reality star, students listen. If it impacts just one student, if you can change one life, the program is well worth it. Unfortunately, there will always be some sort of bullying going on whether in school, after school, or the social media, kids need a resource to go to. They need someone to stand up for them.”
Bullying cannot be ignored in the schools.
“Just because administrators or teachers don’t hear about bullying, we can’t assume it does not occur,” he added. “Too often kids just don’t say anything or are afraid of retaliation. We need to provide an avenue to help.”