'Be Brave' theme
Local church films videos to help stop suicides
The New Albany Church recently produced two videos that seek to stop bullying and prevent suicides.
Their messages coincide with the New Albany-Plain Local School District's anti-bullying campaign that began last school year.
Joel Kovacs, New Albany Church pastor, said the church wanted to respond to the deaths of several local young people in the past year. It created the two Be Brave videos to address feelings that can lead to depression and suicide.
The first video was released Aug. 12 and was a topic of conversation in the community last week. The second was released Aug. 19. Both videos may be viewed on YouTube by searching for key words "Be Brave New Albany."
"We want to start a movement to help students have the bravery to speak up if they see something," Kovacs said.
Superintendent April Domine said the videos provide "a great beginning to launch conversations" about the issue.
"(The videos) could be used as a conversation-starter to show students how they can be brave and say something when they see someone in need," she said.
Domine said the videos encourage students to tell someone if they feel another student may be in trouble.
"We have to get the conversation started and we have to be engaged," Domine said. "The stakes are too high."
During the last school year, the district formed an anti-bullying committee that created a clear definition of bullying, added safer anonymous reporting for students and improved teacher and adult responses to reports to create a uniform response districtwide. The new definition is: "Bullying occurs when a student is aware that (his or her) repeated, unwanted behavior is hurting another student, and then continues the behavior."
The church's first video was shown at the Aug. 13 school board meeting.
Kovacs wrote the script, in which five high school students act ignored, alone, ridiculed, embarrassed and forgotten. In the end, all five decide to "be brave" and face the school day after being encouraged by a friend. The actors are freshman Jordan Burkhart, sophomore Maddie Schumacher, junior Kyhir James and seniors Cameron Horch and Ellen Martin. The theme song was written by Kevin Daniel.
Board Vice President Michael Klein thanked Kovacs for the effort, saying he was bullied as a child.
"Any loss of life, especially a young life, is tragic," Klein said. "It's important to let youths know that other people are going through the same thing."
Kovacs said the video was made without a faith angle. He said he hopes all churches in the area and the entire community can come together to address the problem.
"We are in this community and we love this community," he said. "In the past year, we've had five tragedies that have affected us directly."
Two of those were New Albany High School graduates last summer. Juvon Williams, 18, was killed by Columbus police officers in a shootout in August 2011 after allegedly killing his girlfriend, Leigh Belyn, 18. Williams graduated from NAHS in 2010 and Belyn in 2011.
Another high school student committed suicide in September 2011.
This year, 15-year-old Ken Bores of 5943 Wilderness Drive died June 14 at the hospital after being found unconscious in a Westerville home, 954 Cross Country Drive East. In the police report, witnesses said they suspected Bores had taken LSD and marijuana before arriving at the home. The cause of his death has not been released.
Most recently, a 17-year-old girl was found dead Aug. 3 in her home. Police Chief Mark Chaney called the death "an apparent suicide" but, he said, the coroner has not ruled on the cause of death.
Kovacs said the Aug. 3 death sparked action within New Albany Church. He said he cleared his agenda and began working on sermons related to the Be Brave theme. He said he spoke about the issue to his congregation Aug. 12 and 19.
"Bold acts build up over time," he said. "We need to build up the community so kids are brave enough to make different decisions if they are ignored."
Kovacs said bullying and depression have been linked to suicide. Domine said the campaign also could help prevent students from choosing other destructive forces, such as using drugs and alcohol.
The second Be Brave video was produced by the church last week. It was filmed Aug. 15 in one of the high school classrooms and included 22 high school students.
Kovacs said it stressed cyber-bullying. In it, a bully sends a negative text to another student and the rest of the class.
The majority of the class laughs when seeing it. But one student, portrayed by sophomore Megan Puleri, doesn't think it is funny.
When class is over, Puleri takes a stance and stops the bully from leaving the room to further torture his victim. In this video, freshman Casey Horch plays the victim and sophomore Parker Schuppenhauer plays the bully.
During production, Kovacs emphasized the apathetic reaction groups often have to negative issues by having the students use mechanized movements to act like robots.
As with the first video, the church sent the final production out to its young members, who sent the video to their friends, said Emma Berlin, a member of the church's student ministry.