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Duo targets bullying with Pivik show

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 10:21 p.m.
Pivik Elementary School students and staff pose with Josh Verbanets and Gab Bonesso, top row at center, after an anti-bullying assembly held at the school last week. Submitted photo
Josh Verbanets, right, and Gab Bonesso, prepare to perform during an anti-bullying assembly at Pivik Elementary School last week. WQED filmed The Josh and Gab Show, and will air on the network next month. Submitted photo

Heather Simmons became concerned when she heard about children being excluded by their peers on the playground at Pivik Elementary School.

Simmons, 36, of Plum heard of similar incidents on school buses. Her daughter Emily, 8, is a third-grader at Pivik. Simmons decided enough was enough and earlier this year started an anti-bullying committee within the school's PTA.

“I wanted to open the children's eyes,” said Simmons, committee chairwoman. “It's important to know about bullying.”

When Simmons got an email about the Josh & Gab Show that uses comedy, songs and dance to combat bullying, she jumped at the chance to have the duo perform at Pivik.

Josh Verbanets, a member of the rock band Meeting of Important People, and Gab Bonesso, a comedienne, put on two shows last week at Pivik Elementary.

Verbanets, 29, of Etna has special ties to Pivik. He attended the school as a youngster and graduated from Plum High School in 2001. Verbanets' family lives in the borough.

“It was one of the nicest days of my life (to be at Pivik),” Verbanets said.

Verbanets said he and Bonesso of Montour were approached by the Montour School District — Bonesso's alma mater — and asked to work with the district staff on a bullying prevention program for students.

The program at Montour was a “huge hit,” Verbanets said. The duo has taken the show on the road to more than 20 school districts.

Verbanets said he and Bonesso relate to the youngsters.

“Gab and I aren't far removed from that world and the concerns of youth,” Verbanets said. “It's different than a 70-year-old bearded guy playing guitar.”

“Our goal is to make positive behavior attractive at an early age,” Verbanets said.

In addition to the comedy, music and dancing, he and Bonesso encourage a continued dialogue with the children who may have concerns about bullying in their respective schools.

Simmons said the show costs $600. The PTA budget and individual contributions covered the fee.

Simmons sees The Josh & Gab Show as a supplement to both the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program — a bullying prevention program used worldwide — and the anti-bullying committee's work.

“Our slogan is, ‘If you see something, say something,'” Simmons said. “We try to get bystanders to stand up (and report bullying), not just the kid being bullied.”

Simmons was impressed with the show.

“It was fantastic,” Simmons said. “It got the point across, and every child paid attention. They got the audience involved.”

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or kzapf@tribweb.com.

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