Image courtesy of WQED.

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Bullying can seem like an inescapable rite of childhood with scars that run deep. But nothing about it is inevitable.

To make sure that is the case, the Pittsburgh-based Marcus L. Ruscitto Charitable Foundation is dedicated to preventing bullying on several fronts. That includes working with WQED and a company called TEAMology on the “Know What’s Right, Do What’s Right” campaign.

It started out by creating a standard vocabulary for teachers — from Pre-K through 5th grade — to use around the subject, and a series of six relatable characters: Amelia, Lamar, Paco, Harper, Ruby and Philo. The characters have evolved from two-dimensional depictions into puppets thanks to Pittsburgh Puppet Works, says Jonathan H. Rosenson, a member of the foundation’s board.

Each character has its own “superpower,” notes Rosenson.

“Amelia is about acceptance,” he says. “Harper is about helping others. Lamar is about leadership. Ruby is about resiliency — being the ability to sort of get back up when something difficult happens. So she can help kids overcome obstacles when difficult things happen when they’re in tough times. Philo is all about problem-solving.”

TEAMology/WQED video still courtesy of WQED.

In one video, Amelia talks to a child whose friend is being called a “loser” by school bullies and isn’t sure how to respond. She shows him how to stick up for her friend.

The characters become familiar as they’re integrated into a curriculum appropriate for each age group.

“Through the research that we’ve read — because we again, we’re just sort of a grantmaker — is that it’s hard to change habits when kids are older,” says Rosenson. “So, it’s more advantageous for us as a small organization to focus our limited capacity — or limited funding, I should say — to influence younger kids, because they’re still learning.”

There’s nothing groundbreaking about using puppets to teach social skills; “Sesame Street” has been a staple of public broadcasting since 1969. But it’s an approach that research shows works.

“The first goal is to extend our reach in the community by reaching more kids with technology,” says Rosenson. “So right now, we’re in a couple of dozen schools in the region. And we really want to scale that up, because we believe from our observations and interview reports that we’ve gotten for the last five or six years that we’ve been doing this, is that it does have a positive influence and that it results in lower incidences of disciplinary interventions and higher test scores.”

Plus, WQED’s involvement gives this local program a chance to go national.

“This is great for Pittsburgh because WQED has a national awareness among the PBS system and its programs like this often get shared with other cities,” says Rosenson. “So the Pittsburgh ethos kind of goes along with it.”

Fundraising for the Marcus L. Ruscitto Charitable Foundation occurs primarily through a charity golf outing. The organization was founded to honor the legacy of Marc Ruscitto, a Pittsburgh-based executive with the internet/telecom company Stargate, who was active in many local charitable causes.

Another program the foundation supports is the anti-bullying concerts in schools created by local musician/comedian duo Josh & Gab.

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.