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Staff Writer Times Virginian 

Appomattox Middle School students received valuable lessons last Wednesday. 

Those lessons included intervening when they witness someone being bullied and to focus on their passions. 

These lessons were conveyed through a New York based dance group called Echo Dance Team. 

The team delivered an anti-bullying message while doing a 30-minute skit and dance routine. 

The dance group got the students pumped during an assembly at Appomattox County High School.

James, a full time dancer and singer, told students that everything that he has written pertains to what he has gone through in life. 
He also talked about being bullied in school because he dressed differently. Due to the bullying, he thought that he needed to change. 

“In middle school I wanted to be like everyone else,” he told the students, adding that he had stopped being himself. 

After his parents witnessed him being out of character, they convinced him not to change because of the negative talk from others. 
“They let me know that other people do not define me,” said James. 

James explained how he rose above bullying and how he focused on his passion, which is writing songs. That passion later turned into a career for him in which he writes, produces and does his own choreography for his group. 

After the performance, James told the Times-Virginian that he receives positive feedback from students and school administrators in regards to the group’s message in taking a pledge against bullying. 

“The kids are really receptive,” he said. “The kids will email me saying that my story is their story.”  Seventh grader Gabriel Hamlett said what he liked the most about the performance were the songs. Seventh grader Michael Tuck had similar thoughts about the group. 

“I thought the show was really cool with all the dancing and singing,” said Tuck. “I learned that no matter if you are popular or not, you should treat people the same.” 

Eighth grader Jasmine McCoy said that she could relate. “I really enjoyed it. I could relate to it,” said McCoy. 

McCoy also stated that she learned that if someone is being bullied to help that person. Seventh grader Cassidy Carter had a similar opinion about the performers and their performance.  “I thought it was really good. It had a good message,” said Carter. “I learned that some people do not fit in as well and they do not have the easiest life.” 


BY Dave MacQueen/ABC NEWS 

Cario Middle School has formed an anti-bullying committee through the School Improvement Council. 
By Natalie 

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) – Students' eyes were glued to the stage inside a middle school gymnasium Tuesday in Mount Pleasant. Some of them swayed their arms side to side, others clapped to the beat, and others even stood up and danced. 

Ask any teacher. It's no easy feat to keep the attention of sixth through eighth graders, especially groups of more than 400. But Tuesday morning, inside Cario Middle School's gymnasium, the kids listened and participated, all while absorbing a positive message school administrators are trying to instill in their attitudes -- stop bullying. 

The New York City dance troupe travels the country to schools singing and dancing to popular songs heard on mainstream radio, but it's the songs that the kids didn't recognize that brought them to Mount Pleasant Tuesday. 

"Terrified of what they'd say…Now I made it through another year." 

The lyrics of the songs sound like they were ripped straight from a journal. The dancer and singer says his music portrays his experiences in middle and high school, where he was bullied. He says it led him to disassociate himself from others. 

"I just think I had a sense I didn't belong and didn't know where I belonged for a long time. So, I shut down," James said. "I just thought if I could get to those kids and tell them I went through it and got through it and they can do the same thing, maybe I can make an impact in some sort of way." 

Dancers backed up his moves on stage, never wavering their attention from the children and keeping them focused on the music's words. After the dancing, all three shared their experiences with bullying to the audience. 

Sixth grader Tajhna Lester said she enjoyed watching the performance, but also related to the singer's story. 

"It happens at school in the lunch room," Lester said. "It's like this one girl that I know. These two people keep doing it to her everyday and she's tired of it. Me and my other friend go to the guidance counselor with her to help her." 

Lester says she worries that by helping the girl, she too may become a target of bullying. 

"I'm always afraid that I'm going to get picked on," she said. 

But Tuesday's performance offered her some hope that those that harass others will realize their effects. 

"It's someone who's actually going through it and telling them that they aren't the only person," she said. "The person actually is doing it; they're going to see the effects it has on a person." 

The crew performed three times Tuesday for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. Cario Middle School has nearly 1,400 students. Battling bullying doesn't end inside the gymnasium though. The school has created an anti-bullying committee through the school improvement council. Seventh grade principal Nathan Woods is on the committee. 

"We felt like it was important, and we wanted to get a pulse for the school. So, we also took a survey of students, staff, community and parents to kind of find out what bullying looks like here at Cario," Woods said. 

Woods said the survey revealed the school is doing pretty well, showing only some minor things they are trying to tweak, which they hope the performance will help attack. 

Principal Benjamin Bragg says it's important for school administrators to address bullying and actively work to curb it in schools and involve parents and the community in their efforts. 

"It could be a silent killer out there that we don't know about. But parents do realize it, and kids do come home and talk about their concerns," Principal Bragg said. 

Both James and school administrators hope when the music fades and the kids go on with the everyday adolescent happenings of homework and school dances, the message in the music stays with the students.

SHS anti-bully campaign hits high gear 


The man energizing a crowd of high schoolers Friday with personal songs and nimble dancing hardly moved with such confidence when he was their age. 


A bullying victim, James drew inward — quiet, miserable and alone. 

Sometimes he didn’t think he’d make it. Then things changed. 

A taekwondo class boosted his confidence. He landed the lead in the school musical as a senior. Quickly, he found his purpose through performing and learned the bullies who terrorized him were wrong. 

James moved to New York City to pursue a college education and now travels the country educating thousands of students. 
His positive message: Focus on your strengths, work hard and believe in yourself. 

“You’re never as alone as you think you are,” he said. 

Lea Westerhold, 15, made the event possible with funds won through the “Rise of the Guardians” Guard Against Bullying Sweepstakes. The 10th-grader penned an essay to win the national anti-bullying contest, landing $5,000 to use for programs benefiting Sandusky students. 

The essay included personal experiences and a description of an anti-bullying contract her class signed a few months ago, Westerhold said. 

“Bullying usually isn’t physical, it’s mental or emotional,” she said. “I really liked their message because this affects a lot of people. I’m glad I was able to bring something like this to Sandusky.” 

Geometry teacher Brad Agee encouraged his students to enter the contest and said he was very satisfied with the end result. 

In addition to today’s event, the sophomore class will travel to Camp Mary Orton in Worthington for trust-building activities in May, Agee said. 

“They had a lot of fun and I think it reached a lot of students,” he said. “It’s something we can all relate to.”





At age 12, James felt isolated and alone. As he struggled to find himself in middle school, he turned to music and dance, two art forms that are now his platform for telling his story to young adults and encouraging them to pursue their dreams. 

His high-energy performances fuse hip-hop, jazz and modern dance music, and they usually end with hundreds of preteens screaming and chanting his name. 

James is looking to bring that feeling to two Connecticut schools in June. "They love his performances. They just love him," said Priscilla Figueroa, a teacher at Middle School 88 in Brooklyn, N.Y., where J has performed three times for more than 300 students. 

The singer-songwriter-choreographer will perform for four shows at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Plantsville and Joseph A. DePaolo Middle School in Southington on Friday.  

James says music was his "salvation during adolescence," when he discovered his musical talent. A few skits in between songs show his preteen struggles of trying to find himself. 

"I felt kind of isolated and alone, and music and dance were the two things that helped me find myself, my individuality," said James, who grew up in NYC and studied at the Juilliard School in Manhattan, where he lives. 

The young adults should expect a repertoire of energetic dance songs that convey that message. A few backup dancers will accompany the pop star, who likes to talk to the kids about their aspirations and goals after the show. 

Middle school administrators are finding that kids respond well to energetic performances they can be a part of. 

"We're looking for them to follow their dreams," said Pam Aldi, the assistant principal at Kennedy Middle School who booked J for the positive message he promises to deliver. 

"There's an important message, but you're reaching them in ways that entertain the kids," said Chris Palmieri, the assistant principal at DePaolo. 

Because these students are going through a transitional time, Palmieri said, it helps to have a role model like J who has experienced the struggles of trying to fit in at such a young age. 

In Brooklyn, the students had eagerly awaited the May 20 performance and had made signs that read, "I love you." 

He hopes to re-create that feeling in Connecticut. 

"It really felt like, in essence, like the dream that you have in your head, what you envision the best moments being," he said. "It came to fruition in that moment." 

Contact Matt Negrin at © The Hartford Courant 

Carthage Students Treated to High Power Assembly 

By Elaine M. Avallone 
Staff writer 


Using energizing dance moves and original motivational songs, the Vital Dance Crew performed two shows for Carthage Central High School students, Nov. 19. 

James, who studied at the Julliard School in Manhattan, has been touring schools for about three years. Through his dance and original music he brings home the message that hard work and perseverance pays off. 

During the 45-minute performance, the dancers had the high school students up on their feet dancing along to the music and interacting with the lyrics. 


The songs included the performer’s original work, intermixed with popular songs. Between the songs, an interview with James is played during which he states he has been able to achieve his dreams because he has stayed focused, worked hard, believed in himself and stayed away from drugs and alcohol. 

Following the dance performance which combines hip hop, jazz funk, Latin and modern movements, James and his dancers shared their personal experiences. James and his dancers are all college educated and related how important education is to following your dreams. 

“The reason for the assembly was two-fold,” Joseph S. Sedita, Carthage principal, said. “First we have a large population of students who do not make the connection between what they learn in school and how that information can help them to lead happy, successful adult lives. The message of the show was exactly that.  James and his performers would not be doing what they love if not for their education. Secondly and more importantly, it is my belief that schools should educate the whole child.

The lesson I was trying to teach was that when we take care of business and do the things we are expected to do there are rewards. I told the students I was proud to call myself the Principal of Carthage High School because I believe we have excellent teachers and excellent kids.” 

Used by permission of the Carthage Tribune.

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