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CPS students featured in a docudrama addressing cyberbullying

VSteuben High School student Tiffany Witkowsi 17 poses for photograph ColumbiCollege 1104 S. Wabash Ave. Wednesday Oct. 12 2011 Chicago.

Von Steuben High School student Tiffany Witkowsi, 17, poses for a photograph at Columbia College, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011, in Chicago. Witkowski student-produced a film called "Your Social Life," about the topic of bullying. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 16, 2011 3:24PM

One girl tells how her brother lost all motivation for school after he was jumped on by several boys who’d announced the beat-down to other students at their high school on Facebook.

A boy tells about a female friend who had to transfer high schools after her boyfriend shared with his friends the nude photo she had sent him, “sexting,” and they spread the photo all over school.

These were just two Chicago Public Schools students featured in “Your Social Life,” a docudrama addressing cyberbullying in CPS that was screened for students, staff and parents Wednesday night at Columbia College.

“I just decided to get rid of my Facebook page,” says Tiffany Witkowski, 17, a senior at Von Steuben High, who helped research and produce the film. “I felt emotionally threatened. I’d just moved here, and some students want to know everything about someone’s life. They’d visit me and my boyfriend’s Facebook pages, and say, ‘Oh you guys did such and such.’ It’s called ‘creeping.’ ”

In the film, produced with CPS support by two nonprofits, Beyondmedia Education and Mikva Challenge, CPS teens tell of myriad experiences where they or someone close to them were victims.

There is the girl who was called a “fat ----” on her Facebook page; another whose friend was jealous of her Facebook posts about scholarships won, so she sent “no thank-you” letters to the awarding entities, pretending to be the girl; and a boy others turned on, for defending a friend.

“Students we talked to who have done these things said they thought they were just doing something harmless, and didn’t think of consequences,” says Laurise Johnson, 17, a senior at Sullivan High.

Threats, harassment and shaming of students by other students — using cell phones, Facebook, YouTube and other social media — is just as rampant here as it has become in schools nationwide, many of the teens said.

Of 700 CPS teens surveyed, 33 percent said they had been victims — some to the point of dreading going to school — and 36 percent admitted engaging in cyberbullying. Nationwide, about 42 percent of fourth- through 12th-graders have been victims of cyberbullying, says i-Safe, an organization devoted to children’s safety online.

The film, which will be screened for the public at an event partly sponsored by Yahoo! and MTV at the Field Museum at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18, will be used to promote awareness and prevention strategies in CPS middle- and high-schools, says CPS Education Technology Director John Connolly.

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