Lauren Parsekian and Molly Stroud, who'd been students together at Pepperdine University, hit the road for a month and a half in 2009. In a van donated by Toyota, they stopped in 60 cities and 28 states.
Fun wasn't their aim. They went looking for painful truths about girls' lives. And everywhere they went, they heard the stories.
One teen admitted telling another girl she'd eat lunch with her at school, and then watching that girl show up and eat alone. Another remembered taunts about needing liposuction. A mother recalled her middle-school daughter crying and begging to stay home because others called her ugly.
"I sit by them, but they move. I only have one friend," a small girl, wiping away tears, told Parsekian and Stroud.
Throughout their journey, Parsekian and Stroud filmed stories of what they call "girl world." The result is "Finding Kind," a documentary brought to Everett schools by the Seattle International Film Festival.
I was in the Everett Civic Auditorium on Monday when the filmmakers showed "Finding Kind" to Everett High School students. The two women also talked about the Kind Campaign, an effort that grew from their project. The film was also screened for Cascade, Jackson and Sequoia high school students and eighth-graders from North Middle School, said Dustin Kaspar, the film festival's educational programs manager.
"Finding Kind" has no more screenings during the run of the film festival. Margo Spellman, a publicist who runs the Spellman Company, said the film is expected to be released into theaters nationally this fall.
At Everett High, students weren't surprised the filmmakers found bullying, meanness and gossip to be so widespread.
"I've walked by groups of girls and heard it," said Sydney McShurley, a 16-year-old sophomore at Everett High. "I've also done my share of talking behind people's backs."
"The whole assembly made me happy, that people are trying to stop bullying. A lot of my friends are bullied," said Tony Kail, 16. A sophomore, Krail said some kids feel pressured to go along when others are picking on someone.
And 18-year-old Stephen Coombs, an Everett High senior, agreed with the film's premise that while boys get into fights, girls are more apt to keep grudges going.
McShurley said Facebook and texting have taken bullying to a higher level. Posts on Facebook "are kind of coded," she said, but teens gang up on others with their comments.
After the film, Parsekian and Stroud took the stage to talk about their own experiences. Both had mean girl encounters. In middle school, Parsekian said she was so plagued by rumors to the point that she developed an eating disorder and became suicidal. And in high school, Stroud said, "I was punched in the face." The aggressor later apologized.
As students left, they were handed cards on which they could write a "Kind Pledge" or a "Kind Apology," either to keep to themselves or to give to someone.
At North Middle School, Principal Kelly Shepherd said follow-up discussions are happening in classrooms. "Even at lunch today, I saw several of the 'Kind Apologies,' from one student to another. It's part of a bigger campaign around our school to foster a climate of respect," she said.
"It was a very realistic picture of what is happening. Certainly as a principal, and to all my eighth-graders, it's not like it was shocking. It's really realistic," Shepherd added.
Bullying is nothing new. What's new are the tools of what the film calls "emotional warfare."
"Bullying and harassment have been around forever," Shepherd said. "But the instantaneousness of it, and the very public nature of it -- way back when it might have been a note. Now, posted on Facebook, 300 people see it and you can't take it back. I do think this caused kids to pause and think."
Kaspar said that gossip and snubs can be worse than getting beaten up on the playground.
"It's the bruise that doesn't go away," he said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the Kind Campaign: www.kind campaign.com/documentary.php
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