Jim Mayer, known to kids as “Uncle Jim” and to adults as the bass player for Jimmy Buffet’s Coral Reefer Band, has taken up the anti-bullying message with his IM4U program.
“Bullying is all about making a decision to be miserable and making other people miserable,” Mayer told the students.
Interspersed among fun and wacky songs with positive messages was Mayer’s call to R.O.C.K. — to employ responsibility, observation, choice and knowledge.
Kitty Stone Principal Christy Hamilton said bullying is an issue people hear about in the news, but that hasn’t taken root so much in her school.
“We don’t have a lot of problems here, but we want to be proactive,” she said. “We want to keep kids aware about … and cut down on the incidents that we do have.”
Bringing Mayer to Kitty Stone was the result of a few coincidences and the legwork of Derek Raulerson, who had dealt with his son’s encounter with a bully at school. The issue was already on his mind when someone at a Parrothead gathering eventually recommended Mayer. After checking out the program, Raulerson took the idea to Hamilton and district administration, ultimately securing $1,500 from the city to pay for the show, which Raulerson said covered Mayer’s expenses. “He’s doing this for the public good.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 2009 study of high school students revealed that nearly 20 percent reported being bullied at school in the previous 12 months. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health revealed that more than 30 percent of students surveyed had been verbally bullied (called mean names, made fun of or teased in a hurtful way), with more than 35 percent identified as bullies.
Second-grade teacher Karen Nelson said Mayer’s presentation was something students and faculty alike need to hear.
“The biggest problem, in schools right now,” she said, “is that kids don’t know that they’re bullying when they’re bullying, so it’s important to identify … what bullying looks like,” she said.
Nelson added that Mayer’s reinforcement of the proper way to handle bullying when it happens was key; that’s because so often kids don’t want to be thought of as snitches.
“I thought that was a really important message, and he did it with humor and dance,” she said.
Fourth-grader Deandre Sigler said that message was the most interesting part of the program, learning what kids can do to help, “like telling people and reporting it if something’s wrong.”
“You need to tell somebody,” Mayer told them. “This is really important because kids all over the country are getting hurt because nobody’s speaking up.”
Deandre had never heard of cyberbullying until Friday, but now he knows to be cautious before “you go online and text someone, and you hurt somebody’s feelings.”
Mayer told students that once they hit send, they can’t take it back. A chorus of “Whoa!” met Mayer’s explanation of how something goes viral, of how quickly one message to a friend can turn into 125 quickly.
Mayer, who has 26 nieces and nephews, became “Uncle Jim” to an international audience of children by happenstance. One of the ways he related to his nieces and nephews was to make up silly songs.
“The kids would come back a month later singing songs I had made up, and I didn’t remember it,” he said. He decided it might be worth it to record himself singing the songs he was making up on the fly. By 2004, he had a No. 1 children’s hit with “Funky as a Diaper” and was voted best new kids’ artist of the year for the XM Nation Award.
“For whatever reason, kids listen to what I say,” he said.
Eventually he started performing in schools and decided that “if kids are listening to me, why don’t I get the teachers to tell me what they want me to say?”
Bullying, he said, is a very real problem, but he thinks society is making huge strides forward. “I see the eradication of bullying as very achievable,” he said. “It’s a very low bar.”