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Longtime play turned into film to reach students across the country

In less than a week, students will head back to school – and what parent doesn’t worry about their child making friends and enjoying their classes?

The heartbreaking reality is 1 out of every 5 children is bullied in school, according to the National Bullying Prevention Center.

However, the National Bullying Prevention Center also reports that bullying prevention programs in schools can lead to a 25% decrease in bullying.

That’s where Dan and Rebecca Burd are doing their part to make a difference.

For two decades, they’ve toured the country with a cast that performed their on-stage musical, Speak Life End Bullying the Musical, for hundreds of schools.

But to reach even more students, the musical was recently turned into a film that can be aired in schools around the country.

Over 20 years, Dan Burd said the musical was performed in front of 375,000 students in 31 states.

“Our new goal with the film is 1 million students in 1,000 schools this year. That’s the difference,” Burd said.

Last month, the new film premiered at the Lyric Theatre.

The story line follows students that you would find in any school setting: The new girl, the athletes, the theater lovers, the prom queen, but also a student who is bullied relentlessly.

Behind each character is a story that shows they are all experiencing struggles in their lives that might not show on the surface. The Burd’s wanted students to be able to see someone they can relate to, encourage them to be kind to their peers, and also seek out help if they’re being bullied, feeling depressed, or even experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Rebecca Burd said the film is also accompanied by course work that is reviewed in a classroom setting.

“I just hope it just gets to every school and people understand that they’re not alone and there’s people like them,” said Rachael Deboer, an actress in the film and in the on-stage musical.

“My character really shines a light on the effects that bullying really does have, not just the face-to-face interactions but the social media,” said actress Emma Elizabeth Smith.

The Burd’s say they were inspired to turn the musical into a film when COVID prevented them from being able to perform in-person in schools.

“It had always been in our hearts that any school, anywhere in the world could have access to this film and access this program at any time,” Rebecca said. When schools show the film, the students also get access to it on their phones for 30 days.

During the premiere, a Martin County teenager was introduced who saw the production about nine months ago while she was battling depression.

It prompted her to get the help she needed from counseling and opening up to her parents, putting her in a better place today.

It’s that potential impact that made Martin County native and Denver Bronco’s football player Justin Simmons and his wife want to get involved. The Justin Simmons foundation helped cover the big costs of producing the film.

“We started our foundation with the goal of helping at-risk youth, and what better cause than bullying to kind of partner with,” said Taryn Simmons.

“It seems like there’s something happening in our schools every other week and it’s really sad to see, and what a great opportunity we all have to do something about it,” Justin Simmons said.

Martin County middle and high schools will be using the film this coming school year, according to Rebecca Burd.

She says they are also in talks with other local school districts. Rebecca says their large goal is to have the State of Florida adopt the program for all middle and high schools. Representatives Toby Overdorf and John Snyder are supporters of the film and are looking to get the idea before the Florida Board of Education.

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