LIHUE — Jai Duterte was among dozens of children shouting, “Who let the dogs out,” on Thursday as a way to alert others when bullying happens.
“It was fun because you got to learn how to protect yourself,” said the 9-year-old, who is a part of the summer enrichment program at the Lihue Neighborhood Center.
Local martial arts instructor Kenn Firestone led the class as part of an anti-bullying workshop coordinated with the Kauai County Parks and Recreations Department.
The workshop taught the children how to gain the confidence to verbally defend themselves against bullies. Like little Chloe, who Firestone picked from the crowd to participate in an exercise.
Holding a thin board of wood, Firestone instructed Chloe to break the board.
Her first try failed.
But with cheers and support from everyone in the center, the 5-year-old broke the board on her second attempt and lit the room with a big smile.
“I felt good and strong,” she said.
Through July 21, Firestone will bring Bully Proof Awareness Hawaii Kauai to nine locations around the island twice with the hope to stop bullying in schools and homes as well as cyber bullying through electronic devices.
“(Bullying) doesn’t come from the kids; it comes from an environment where they’re coming from or where they’re hanging out a lot,” Firestone said. “I think at this young age, before they get into middle school, they’ll become leaders, and they’ll understand when something’s going wrong where they can help.”
During the workshop, one child said to Firestone, “I get bullied at home from my family.”
Firestone said that statement impacted him deeply.
“There aren’t bad kids,” he said. “There are just bad choices.”
The workshop is targeted to over 850 children, ages 5 to 13 years old.
“We obviously support anti-bullying and we’re interested to see what the children take from it and their reactions to the involvement,” said Paulina Felcher, summer enrichment program coordinator for Parks and Rec.
Firestone hopes to take the anti-bullying program to public schools after summer.
Preston Ikehara-Yasay, summer fun program recreational aide in Lihue, said Thursday’s workshop hit home for a lot of the kids.
“Family impact has a lot to do with the behaviors of these kids,” Ikehara-Yasay said. “The only thing we can do here is to basically share what we know about these types of things with them.”
Shelly Yokote, Firestone’s wife and fellow martial arts instructor, said since starting the workshops on June 14 in Kilauea, the children have been receptive of the anti-bullying instruction and the message it sends.
“Right now we’re donating our personal time and just loving the kids and enjoying being with them,” she said. “There’s lots of good order and very soft discipline. The kids seem to listen.”
Firestone said he plans to gather all 850 children for one last workshop of the summer.
The next anti-bullying program will take place at Wilcox Elementary School on Tuesday.