Manhattan school using virtual reality to combat bullying, choose kindness

UPPER EAST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) -- A private school in New York City is on the cutting edge of efforts to combat bullying using the latest technology. Headsets and cell phone apps developed so kids can play video games are being used to help them "choose kindness."

At the Buckley School on the Upper East Side, a group of fourth grade boys are on the front lines of the battle against bullying.

"As part of their diversity curriculum, they're learning how to have empathy and understand people who might be different from them," Buckley's Director of Technology Julie King said.

King and teacher Willie Dominguez are using virtual reality -- known as VR -- to show kids how to cope with real-life situations.

"The most powerful thing about using virtual reality for this is that it's an immersive experience," King said.

The experience begins with an app called CoSpaces, which Buckley student Meesha Thomas explained is "an app you can get on your computer. You can look it up on Google or Safari. It's a virtual reality game that you can make stuff with."

Thomas and classmates use it to create scenarios that play out in their headsets.

What each boy sees is projected to the others, so the entire class gets to share a common experience, which is a big part of what makes VR so effective.

"To be able to put another person in their shoes, to see what they saw, to beginning to feel what they felt, that's how it becomes a more deep experience," King said.

The medium really helps get the message across.

"These young boys have grown up differently than we did," Buckley's Head of School Greg O'Melia said. "In many ways, technology is ubiquitous in their lives."

Sure, that can be for the worse sometimes, but at Buckley, it's clearly for the better.

"I learned that bullying is not something, anything anybody should ever do," student Sebastian Bank said. "Nothing anyone should ever think about doing."

The anti-bullying message does seem to be getting across, and what's exciting is how fast the technology is improving and getting more child-friendly. It's cool how the kids get to code and create their own scenarios, rather than just sit back and passively consume what's on their screen.

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