Students sing and dance to anti-bullying message

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 8:58 p.m.

It's probably not that often that the mere mention of Justin Bieber elicits ‘boos' from an audience of elementary and middle school children, but that's just what happened during a special assembly at the Jeannette McKee school building.

Josh and Gab, who produce an anti-bullying musical comedy program for children, performed for Jeannette students last week and during the show for fifth- through eighth-graders, the duo asked if the audience wanted to hear some Justin Bieber. To their surprise, the students responded with boos and laughter. When Josh Verbanets, the musician, clarified that he would be taking a familiar Bieber tune and changing the lyrics, the students were much more receptive.

Instead of hearing the well-known lyrics to “Boyfriend,” the song was changed to include such lines as “If I was your real friend, you'd never feel alone, I'd never push you around and never spread a rumor.”

The performance is part of the elementary and middle schools' anti-bullying efforts. Building on the kickoff rally held in the fall, the students continue to be encouraged to stop bullying, to stand up for their friends and to speak out against bullying.

Josh Verbanets and Gab Bonesso are two Pittsburgh-based writers and performers. Verbanets is the front-man of the rock band Meeting of Important People and is a published songwriter. Bonesso is a local comedian and motivational speaker. The show peppers storytelling with anti-bullying songs and messages.

Verbanets tells a story about a friend of his being bullied at Kennywood Park and sings a song, “Nine O'Clock Behind the Jack Rabbit” to explain the tale. The song is available on their website, “”

Bonesso shares several stories about being bullied as a student, eliciting many laughs from the students. One particular tale about her obsession with glue sticks and her heartbreak at not receiving one as they were distributed to her first-grade class had students shouting with laughter.

After each tale, Bonesso would sprinkle in information about how students can put an end to bullying in their school. She talked to students about standing up for their friends, about not excluding students from special events and offered tips on how to make new friends. She talked about the consequences involved for students who do stand up for their friends and asked the children to decide which consequences are worse.

While describing an incident in which she stood up for a friend who was being physically harmed by bullies, Bonesso said, “I could handle getting called ‘snitch,' but my friend couldn't handle getting beaten up.”

At one point, Bonesso asked the students to raise their hands if they liked certain things such as sports, music, dancing and video games. As more and more students raised their hands, Bonesso pointed out that people only need one thing in common to make a new friend. Much to Verbanets' chagrin, two students told Bonesso they became friends over their shared dislike of Bieber music.

To demonstrate her point, she asked for a fifth-grader and an eighth-grader who both were interested in sports to step forward. She introduced Chris Sampson, an eighth-grader, to Jonathan Brown, a fifth-grader, who were both interested in athletics and encouraged them to be friends and share their common interests.

Verbanets and Bonesso led the crowd in singing their anti-bully anthem, encouraging the students to shout out that they won't be a bully. The song details a list of things children can do rather than to bully other students. They can play an Xbox, kick a soccer ball and eat a cheeseburger instead of being a bully, the song says.

The Olweus campaign, the formal name of the bullying prevention program the district has implemented this year, is ongoing. For more information, visit and click on the bullying resource link on the right side of the page.

Kristie Linden is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 724-838-5154.

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