The tragic consequences of bullying have frequently been highlighted in film and, every so often, in the media. Most outcomes are not fatal but the impact of verbal, physical and cyber bullying is often traumatic.

In an interview for the 2012 documentary film Bully, writer/director Lee Hirsh revealed the need “to dispel the notion that bullying is just ‘kids being kids.’ ”

Kidz Matter is a nonprofit organization in Ventura County that works with local schools to reduce bullying, which has been defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as repetitive unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.

While its reliance on private donations restricts the number of schools it can adopt, the organization is committed to making a difference by offering anti-bullying programs while the schools elect which program to implement. Currently, it’s involved with Rio Rosales, Rio Del Norte, Fred Williams, Portola and Elmhurst Elementary Schools.

“By empowering and educating kids and school staff, bully behavior will become more easily identified, thus bringing more awareness and resolution, said Brett Marsh, Kidz Matter director of operations and owner of West Coast ATA in Oxnard.

Children have varying views on bullying. When students from local school districts were asked, “What do you think bullying is?”, this is how they responded:

“Picking on someone because they are different” – Keanu, 11

“Teasing and they don’t like it” – Andrew, 9

“When a person makes fun of people to feel better” – Alice, 12

“Beating people up” – Brody, 6

“A boy, girl or adult that’s picking on anybody” – Elijah, 8

The Victory Life Skill Program, which focuses on developing existing character traits (respect, courtesy, honesty, etc.) is the foundation of Kidz Matter and it serves as a vehicle for other programs as well (fitness, safety, academic achievement).

Other character traits are also practiced in the American Taekwondo Association (ATA), through which Marsh and the Ventura-based affiliate run by Kerry Jiroch are established as martial artists and studio owners.

In 2012, Rio Rosales Elementary School in Oxnard hosted its first Youth Leadership Summit with Marsh as the keynote speaker, addressing more than 75 student leaders in the Rio School District about goals. Kidz Matter also led a Family Fitness and Health evening, attended by more than 100 families.

“With Kidz Matter to enhance our school, we’re on the path of building a solid foundation of education, health and fitness, leadership and life skills for each student,” said Principal Leticia Ramos of Rio Rosales Elementary.

“Kidz Matter enabled students to be more aware of bullies, and teachers to be able to intervene earlier,” added Missey Hernandez, fifth-grade teacher at Fred Williams Elementary School in Oxnard.

A bullying survey of 600 students conducted last year in the Rio School District revealed that verbal bullying was the most common form, with 60 percent admitting it took place during lunch.

Rio Vista Middle School Principal Brasilia Perez explained that, as a result, the school applied the top suggestions, and parents hired a dance group and a comedian for the students for an anti-bullying presentation.

Marsh also encourages parents to communicate with children and be educated on bullying-related issues. In fact, the National Bullying Prevention Center mentions parental involvement not only if a child is a victim but also if he or she is a bully.

“Bullying occurs throughout our society and it’s been part of our culture since the beginning of time, but the children of today see bullying everywhere they look. We need to step in and let them know what’s expected,” said Ventura Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Trudy Arriaga.

Consequently, the local Ventura Police Department reports that one in four children who are bullies will have criminal records before the age of 30, while the National Education Association estimates that 160,000 children are absent every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students.

Kidz Matter provides each school with a four-statement “bully promise,” which the students are expected to recite every day as well as being reminded of the value by school staff. 

One of the tenets is I will try to help other kids who are being bullied, which is also endorsed by the Department of Health in its anti-bullying campaign.

In the 2011-12 school year, Kidz Matter conducted a total of 32 events within its Oxnard and Ventura schools.

“We try hard to create a zero tolerance for bully behavior. Our direct goal is to have the funding and resources to be able to offer our programs to all schools in Ventura County,” said Marsh.

The long-term objective for Kidz Matter is to establish an environment where the schools are eventually able to practice and reinforce the programs on their own.

“Every child deserves the dignity of going to school and not being harassed or worrying about their safety. Bullying is not acceptable,” said former Rio School District Interim Superintendent Howard Hamilton.

For information on Kidz Matter, contact Brett Marsh