When Matthew Kaplan learned that his younger brother, Josh, had become a victim of cyber-bullying, he wanted somebody to do something about it. Soon after, he says, “I realized that somebody had to be me.” He created The Be ONE Project, which is a community-building and anti-bullying program for middle school students. He took a break out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.
batteryPOP: When you realized there was a need for something like The Be ONE Project, what was the first step you took?
MATTHEW: I noticed that the majority of the pre-existing bullying prevention programs were geared toward high school students, but I believed that by high school it was already too late. Bullying behavior has already become habit. In my mind, middle school was really the critical window for intervention. The first step that I took was to figure out what the issues were in middle school. To do that, I talked to administrators, teachers, parents, and students, to get a sense of what the bullying landscape looked like for middle schoolers. After identifying what the issues were, I was able to create a program that I believed would help solve the problem.
batteryPOP: How did you know what to do?
MATTHEW: Bullying is an issue that impacts students, so naturally it makes sense that students are best poised to not just understand the root causes of bullying behavior but to make a real and meaningful difference. At the time when I created The Be ONE Project, I had just graduated middle school myself, so I was able to use my experience as a middle schooler to create a peer-to-peer program that students would both learn from and enjoy.
batteryPOP: What was the biggest challenge as you got started?
MATTHEW: My biggest challenge as I got started was actually overcoming my own fear of public speaking. But I faced my fears time and time again, and now public speaking is one of my greatest skills.
batteryPOP: Have you been you surprised to see how the project has grown?
MATTHEW: The Be ONE Project’s growth over the past four years has been incredible. Already, my work has reached over 4,000 students in four different states with a message of kindness and inclusion, and The Be ONE Project is continuing to expand across the nation. When I started my program years ago, never could I have imagined that I would be walking down the red carpet at the Radio Disney Music Awards Show where I would accept the Disney Channel “Hero for Change” award from Shakira, or partnering with Abercrombie and Fitch to film a documentary PSA about anti-bullying. I never would have thought I would be talking to senators, CEOs, and celebrities and have them look to me as an expert in my field. But I had the courage and conviction to run with an idea that I have, and step-by-step, I’ve been able to make a real difference for thousands of students.
batteryPOP: You were only a freshman in high school when you started this. How did you balance your schoolwork with such a huge project going on in your life? And how do you balance it now?
MATTHEW: It was definitely difficult to balance The Be ONE Project and schoolwork, especially during the program’s inception. Though my work with The Be ONE Project certainly requires a lot of my time and energy, I’ve made sure to always put my studies first. Balancing my service work and schoolwork has been a bit of a juggling act, but I think that the key for me was that I truly loved working on The Be ONE Project. When you are passionate and excited about something, it hardly feels like work at all.
batteryPOP: How can kids get involved with the Be ONE Project?
MATTHEW: The Be ONE Project is always looking for students who are passionate about making a difference to join our cause to make school communities more kind and inclusive places. Students can get involved by emailing The Be ONE Project at firstname.lastname@example.org. We truly believe that ONE person really can make a difference! Kids can also have their parents or teachers book a Be ONE program by visiting our website. (CLICK HERE)
batteryPOP: Where would you like to see the project in three years?
MATTHEW: My goal is to bring The Be ONE Project to every middle school in my home state of Arizona, and ultimately, to have a network of Be ONE presenters throughout the country. There is no quick fix for bullying. The remedy requires a shift of consciousness possible only with the reputation of the message that we hold the power to mold our own school culture. I envision a comprehensive curriculum for schools to implement beyond the Be ONE workshop. I can’t reach everyone, but I can make a meaningful difference for many, and some will make a difference for others, in turn.
batteryPOP: What are some things kids can do on their own to help in the effort to eliminate bullying?
MATTHEW: One thing that kids can do on their own to help in the effort to eliminate bullying is to speak up if they, or someone they know, are in need of help. A recent study reported that 64 percent of children who were bullied did not report it. But when bullying does get reported to a teacher, peer, or parent, and that individual intervenes, bullying situations stop more than half of the time. So don't be afraid to speak up if you are being bullied. There are people who will listen and help.
batteryPOP: What is something kids can keep in mind to help them stay sensitive to the feelings of others?
MATTHEW: It is so important to stay sensitive to the feelings of others, especially when communicating online via tools like cell phones and social media. I’d ask kids to keep in mind that if you receive a hurtful text or email or Facebook message about a classmate, don’t send it on. Even if it’s meant to be funny, it’s not funny to the person that it’s about. Think about whether you would say that same thing to that person’s face. Think about whether you would want that same thing to be said about you. Just because can post something anonymously and just because you cannot see the person’s face when you hit send, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt the person who receives it. It hurts. It’s as simple as that.
Thank you so much to Matthew Kaplan for answering all our questions!
If you'd like to see how other kids are facing the issue of bullying, you can also check out the series How To UnMake a Bully on batteryPOP!
Post by Rachel Bozek