Bully Buster program spreads in area schools

 in Akron - Zahand's Martial Arts

By STEVE WIANDT / Reporter
Posted Aug 2, 2018 at 12:01 AM
Updated at 10:25 AM

http://www.mytownneo.com/news/20180802/bully-buster-program-spreads-in-area-schools

CUYAHOGA FALLS — Make friends. Use humor. Ignore. Agree. Stand up. Walk away.

These are six of the 12 steps to busting bullies, as taught by local karate teacher Matt Zahand.

Zahand said he started his Bully Buster program two years ago when he returned from serving in the Navy and found that students in their teens and younger were committing suicide at an alarming rate. This is his third year presenting the program in local schools.

Zahand, 23, has no children of his own, but as an instructor at his father’s martial arts school on Akron Peninsula Road, he comes in contact with young people nearly every day. The news of children harming themselves hit him hard.

“I heard about all these kids committing suicide and it just baffled me,” he said. “I mean, literally 8- and 10-year-olds doing this kind of stuff.” Zahand said he returned home from the Navy because had broken his back. As he was trying to adjust to civilian life again, he began to hear about a rash of suicides in area schools, primarily in Perry Township.

“It just shook me,” he said. “I’ve taught martial arts my whole life; having kids that age in my classes and just imagining them doing that, it really shocked me and broke me up.”

“Sensei Matt,” as he is known to his students, said the program aims to educate children and teens on how to handle themselves in bullying situations and to understand there’s nothing wrong with getting help.

Zahand said he based Bully Buster on a similar program attributed to a Dr. Webster 20 years ago. An “old-timey” program in his eyes, he said, he took it and modernized it.

“Essentially it’s 12 ways to handle bullies without fighting,” he said. “This is our third year going into the schools and we’ll be in schools in Cuyahoga Falls, Woodridge, Revere and Ravenna districts, and we’re in talks with Stow-Munroe Falls, as well.”

When a principal invites him to give his program, Zahand takes over the school’s gym class for a day in elementary schools and two days in middle schools and high schools. He said he’s already had a background check done on himself for the benefit of the schools he visits.

“The students look forward to Sensei Matt coming into our building each year,” said Julie Wilson, principal of Richardson Elementary School. “Matt has been a positive addition in the lives of so many of our students. He has willingly mentored students and offered scholarships to at-risk students.”

Wilson said improvements have been seen in student attendance, self-esteem and overall demeanor.

Zahand said the program in the middle and high schools is different from the elementary school program because it’s two days and the students are a little older.

“We really work on team building,” he said. “It’s meant to teach kids you’re not going to like everybody in life, but you don’t disrespect people.” Zahand said he only teaches blocks and defensive moves in Bully Buster. “There’s no striking taught,” he said. “It’s all meant to know how to protect themselves and not get into fights.”

Bully Buster has been presented in most of the Cuyahoga Falls City schools, Zahand said, including Lincoln, Richardson, Bolich, Roberts, Preston and Price. Zahand is planning to return to those schools with his program again this school year, possibly adding DeWitt and maybe Silver Lake, too, if possible.

Richardson School’s gym teacher, Stephanie Petit, said the program teaches kids they have a voice and it gives them a non-violent way out of a situation.

“It’s a positive approach,” she said. “Kids need to know their words have power.” Petit said one of the 12 points Zahand teaches — humor — can be used when dealing with a bully. “He tells the kids, ‘Make a joke. Make fun of yourself’ just to break the tension.”

Petit said he also teaches in some cases agreeing with the bully can diffuse a situation. “Don’t argue,” she said, adding the bullying victim is not always the only one in need of help. The bully may be hurting and in need of a friend, she said.

Zahand said he volunteers his time to put on these programs, with no charge to schools located within a 15-mile radius. Typically he contacts a school district’s superintendent to see if there is an interest. If the superintendent gives him the go-ahead, Zahand contacts the building principals, or they contact him.

“It’s just been a beautiful thing. I’ve had a lot of success with it, just with the kids coming up to me and telling me what they’ve learned and sharing their accounts of things that have happened at school and how they remembered what to do.”

Zahand acknowledged he doesn’t make any money doing the Bully Buster program. Very few children who see his program sign up for classes at his family’s school, he added, and the programs take away from his time teaching at the school where he earns a living.

“It cuts into my day a bit, because I could be down at my facility making money, but that’s not really point,” he said. “The point is to help these kids because they need it.” If anyone signs up for a class, Zahand gives back a third of a month’s tuition to the school.

“Getting more business is not the point,” he said. “If we change one kid’s life, then it’s worth it.”

For more information, call Zahand’s Martial Arts at 330-926-2001.

Reporter Steve Wiandt can be reached at 330-541-9420, swiandt@recordpub.com or @SteveWiandt_RPC.



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