Arizona Teen Believes Positive Peer Pressure Could End Bullying

Drum roll please… What started out as a crazy idea has manifested. Our goal of spotlighting 50 heroes in 50 states has resulted in numerous blessings, miracles and new friendships. We’re so excited to unveil our first hero to you!

The Be O.N.E. Project

Who: Matthew Kaplan, 16-years-old

What: Peer-to-Peer Anti-Bullying Program Targeting Middle Schools

Where: Phoenix

Why: It’s cool to be kind!

The Catalyst: Bullying is a topic of concern in schools across America. With convenient access to digital devices and social media, hurtful messages are multiplied and spread like chicken pox. Adding to the angst, kids can post harmful messages with anonymity, ease and without a real-time reaction from the victim.

Two years ago, when Matthew Kaplan’s kid brother Josh was bullied in middle school, he decided he had to do something. “One day, he came home from school and his self-confidence was shaken,” Matthew said. “He started to withdraw and wasn’t himself anymore.”

Josh said he received dozens of hurtful text messages, like “you suck”. What made things worse — he discovered that his friends, disguised behind blocked phone numbers, were sending the messages. It may sound benign, but at that age, friends are your world, so when you get several messages, you start to think there really is something wrong with you. “It felt horrible,” Josh said. “I probably cried every day in the 4th and 5th grade.”

Big brother Matthew took advocacy to a heroic level by creating the anti-bullying peer experiential program, The Be O.N.E. (Open to New Experiences) Project.

The Act: Through this journey, Matthew discovered his passion: Building community and fostering a positive school culture.

But how? He researched anti-bullying programs targeting middle schoolers, but could only find high school programs and believes that “the damage” is done by that age. “It’s been ingrained, become habit. You have to get them in middle school — that’s when they’re figuring out their sense of self,” Matthew said.

Without an example, Matthew decided to create a middle school anti-bullying program using peer pressure in a positive way. “What if it were cool to be kind?” he preaches enthusiastically. “What if peer pressure could be used as inclusiveness instead of exclusiveness? When they have this tool, they could either be supportive or disruptive. I want them to recognize that they have the power.”

The Be O.N.E. Project is a “positive peer pressure” program. It starts with fun exercises, like holding hands in a big circle and passing a hula hoop around without letting go of hands. There’s joy and lots of laughing. Kids get to know each other and make connections.

The day progresses with focused, serious exercises when kids are asked to sit in a circle and have 90 seconds each to finish the following sentence: “When others see me, they think _____. But if they really knew who I am _____.”

“The Be O.N.E.” challenge is the last activity. When Matthew, who delivers self-defining statements with the passion of an older brother and conviction of a minister, describes a situation, kids are instructed to stand in a line and “Be One” to cross an imaginary line, if the description resonates with them.

At the end of the program, there is a noticeable change of enlightenment and compassion in the kids. Many have tears.

Grab a tissue and watch how every single kid has “crossed a line.” Be inspired to take action — you will discover that you have the power to BE ONE person that is the change-maker in your community:

The Ripples: Matthew has inspired more than 150 Arizona teachers and high school students to be team leaders during the day-long middle school program.

We spoke to students who participated and asked them how it changed their lives. Their answers were mature, candid and give me hope.

“If I was going to send a text that would hurt their feelings, I would think about it
and delete it and say something nice.”
-Sam, 14, 8th grader

“A group of 6th graders that didn’t go through the program, they’re like the popular
kids, now they’re bullying a bunch of the 5th graders. But all the kids that did (go through the program) are trying to stop it. Really helps to go through the program. It changes your ways.”
-Kayla, 11, 6th grader

“I look for people who are eating alone (at lunch) and I talk to them. I made many new
friends this way.”
-Anonymous

Matthew’s goal is to get “The Be O.N.E” program in every Arizona middle school. We believe he will reach this goal. Join in on the fun and be the one who inspires kindness in your community. After all, it is cool to be kind.

What can YOU do?!

Take Action:

1. Support The Be O.N.E. Project

2. Be the O.N.E. to change your school culture. Invite Matthew Kaplan to come present at your school: thebeoneproject@gmail.com

3. Learn more about what YOU can do!

For more information on our 50/50 campaign, check out our blog: 50 Heroes, 50 States, 1 Inspiring Journey!

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About Toan Lam

Toan Lam, the creator of www.GoInspireGo.com is living proof that inspiration and hope trumps the unfortunate situations many of us face today. After nearly 10 years of television industry experience, both in-front and behind-the camera reporting in San Francisco as well as ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates around the country and California Heartland, a statewide, syndicated PBS magazine show, he was laid off from his major market news gig. Toan decided to stop his job search and combine his journalism chops and gift of connecting with people, to help his community. That experience led him to create a website featuring inspirational videos via a YouTube channel. At the end of the videos, there are resource links where viewers can go to help the featured people. His goal: To help everyone discover their power and inspire them to use their power (their resources and talents) to help others. When Toan is not on TV, he is blogging about his website content for the Huffington Post's Living and Impact Sections. Additionally, he is sharing his wealth of knowledge and experience as an adjunct professor, teaching on-camera talent and production classes at the University of San Francisco (his alma mater) and the Academy of Art. Toan is also a member of the Asian American Journalists' Association.