October: Bullying Prevention Awareness Month

School bullying is back in the spotlight this year, spurred partly by the affecting documentary Bully (see image above), which was released to acclaim last spring and  is still playing in theaters across the country. This summer, the U.S. DOE hosted the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit, putting yet another spotlight on the issue. In October, which is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, it all comes together with a number of activities and forums taking place around the country, including the launch of the Don’t Be a Bystander ad campaign—a joint venture of Marlo Thomas’s Free to Be Foundation and the Ad Council—and various events sponsored by groups like Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center. Also on the horizon, the governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, will take the stage in November, when he hosts a state anti-bullying conference—a Sioux City middle school was featured in Bully, and was the location of some of the movie’s more disturbing incidents.

SEE THIS: Brooklyn Castle

The chess circuit saw an upset this spring when I.S. 318, a Title 1 middle school in Brooklyn, walked off with the National High School Chess Championship. More than 60 percent of the school’s students live in poverty, but they have taken home more than two dozen national titles. If you think that sounds like material made for the movies, you couldn’t be more right. The documentary Brooklyn Castle, an audience award winner at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, captures the high spirits and real challenges faced by five team members. Among them are Rochelle (left), who’s seeking to become the first African-American female chess master, and “Pobo,” who’s running for class president on a platform of fighting the budget cuts that threaten after-school programs, including chess. As Pobo puts it, “These kids are the future.” In theaters October 19. brooklyncastle.com

DO THIS:  Taylor Swift Webcast

Save the date: On October 24, singer-songwriter Taylor Swift would like to drop by your classroom and talk to your students about the power of reading. (Over the Internet, that is.) The pop-country superstar, who has sold more than 20 million albums and taken home six Grammys, will share her love of great literature and explain how books have been instrumental in inspiring her own songwriting. During the live classroom webcast—which is part of Scholastic’s Read Every Day global literacy campaign, dedicated to making reading easier, more fun, and more accessible for kids around the world—Swift will be taking questions from students and plans to perform a song from her new album, RED. The 30-minute webcast is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. ET/11:00 a.m. PT. You can register your class at scholastic.com.

Best Seat in the House

Maybe your mother was right—there’s something about success and sitting up straight. In a modern twist, stability balls have moved from the aerobics studio into the classroom, providing a bright, bouncy, and somewhat unorthodox way to improve posture, strength, and even concentration. Anecdotal evidence suggests their use has been increasing, with recent sightings in elementary schools in Colorado, Indiana, Missouri, and Minnesota. The balls get a thumbs-up from both teachers and students, and now scientists are chiming in, too. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have touted the physical benefits of using the balls in the classroom, and a study published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy found that they “increased levels of attention, decreased levels of hyperactivity, and increased time on task” among students with ADHD. Also, as one Fort Collins fourth grader put it, “They’re awesome.”

Drama Queen

We talked to Raina Telgemeier about her new book, great teachers, making comics, and epic friendships.

Q:  How did you become interested in drawing and writing comics?
A: I watched a ton of cartoons growing up, and that influenced the stuff I liked to draw: cartoony characters, animals, kids. I started reading comics when I was nine, and it wasn’t long before I began creating my own.

Q:  Were there any special teachers who inspired you?
A: My first-grade teacher, Miss Stoopenkoff, kept an exchange journal with each student. She would ask us to write entries in letter format, then she would write a letter back, asking questions and setting up the next writing prompt. I was allowed to illustrate my entries, which I hugely enjoyed. In Ms. Mitchell’s creative writing class in high school, I keyed in to how the students who wrote funny pieces got the best responses. I strove to make my writing funny and personal.

Q:  What is Drama about? Is it autobiographical?
A: It’s about a group of kids putting on a play at their middle school. It’s told from the point of view of seventh grader Callie, who works backstage because she adores theater but can’t sing a note! Then, she meets twin brothers who turn her world upside down. Unlike Smile, my last graphic novel, Drama is not autobiographical, but it does have roots in real life. I became a low-key theater geek in high school, singing in ensembles and crowd scenes. I spent a lot of time in the wings, observing the dynamic between the actors and the stagehands. Through this community I met two of my best friends, a charismatic set of twin brothers. Our friendship felt pretty epic at the time.

Q:  Why do you think graphic novels appeal to kids?
A: Words and pictures together are powerful! And so much fun. When I first started reading comic strips, it was only a matter of weeks before I began making my own. Any kid can pick up a pencil and paper and create a short comic. Do it once, and you’re empowered to do it again.