Staples High School has made another "push" toward becoming an inclusive, supportive community.
The school on Wednesday hosted student assemblies featuring PUSH, a performance troupe that showcased vignettes aimed at explaining things that cannot be explained by words alone. In particular, the performance themes related to facets of Westport's health curriculum that teach and encourage students to become allies for others who may be in need.
"What we're trying to build now is the idea that everyone is a potential ally," said Staples Principal John Dodig.
"You can walk the halls here every day and you never see kids who are mean. But that takes a lot of work and that could all fall apart," he said, unless students do their part not only to refrain from bullying, but go out of their way to support and advocate for the victims.
"When you remove words, you take away the intellectual defenses, and they're able to enter into the experience of what's going on on stage," he said.
The PUSH performances at Staples included Stevenson in a dramatic pantomime of a boy growing up and going to war. He explained that he had asked many military veterans about their experiences in war, and they all shared a similar sentiment: "There are not words that exist to convey what we went through."
Stevenson likened the role of soldiers standing up for what's right, to the general population's responsibility to stand up to injustice.
"When you stand in that gap," he said, "when you make that decision, that's life changing."
Another performance, entitled "Job," highlighted the turmoil an individual in pain goes through in the workplace, in part, because he finds no one willing to offer support.
"They're not bad people," Stevenson said of co-workers who choose not to step up. "They've just made a decision to care more about themselves than the person who is going through something ... They're not willing to take the risk."
"This is to support that piece of our curriculum and support the Positive School Climate initiative," said Marylou Huisking, the school diversity coordinator, who helped organize the show with the PTA.
At the end of each performance, Huisking called about 20 students to the stage to be recognized for being allies to classmates, based on anonymous reports from teachers who had observed them stepping into that "gap" that Stevenson referenced.
"They don't know what teacher nominated them," she said. "They don't know what they did, but they're being recognized."
"The kids do it, I'd say, on a daily basis," said Kelly Shamas, health teacher.
"I'd say overall it's a great school," she said. "These kids are awesome and they respect each other," but this is another opportunity to underscore the importance of what they have learned.
"Maybe it's not as necessary in a school like this, where there's not a lot of bullying going on," said student Harry Epstein, 17, "but I think it's pretty helpful."
"You always need to give the message of just be nice, be helpful," said Ryan Connors, 17. "You don't want a hostile environment, especially at a school."