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School leaders work to combat bullying

Thursday, Jan. 30 | By Hannah Dellinger
Warrenton Middle School students build trust through team exercises in Olweus, the district's anti-bullying program. Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
Editor’s note: The name “Sarah” in the following story is not the real name of the person involved. It is being used to protect her privacy.

With the invention of various modes of social media, it has become easier for children to pass unkind and judgmental words along to one another in recent years than it was in the past.

As a result of this proliferation of social media and the accompanying opportunities it offers to harass others, school bullying has become a national hot-button topic.

Sarah, a senior at a local private school, agreed to share her experience with Fauquier Times on the condition her real name not be used. While Sarah is a real person, her story is representative of what some other teens face. She said she has been brutalized by her peers in many ways over the years.

“I was threatened by two girls throughout middle school, and since no one, not even the administration would do anything about it, I left the public school system to go to [my current school],” said Sarah in an email.

She said that shortly after transferring to her new school, two older girls attacked her. She reported the attack to the school administration and the girls were expelled.

“The year after that, a boy in my grade did things to me without my consent,” said Sarah. “He's still in my school and I have to see him everyday, but he won't make eye contact with me anymore, because the teacher I told took care of it.”

Sarah said that she has also experienced harsh cyberbullying.

“The girls who were bullying me told me over the Internet they were going to shove my head in a sink and punch me in the girls' bathroom once they got the chance,” said Sarah.

She said that some of the school counselors that she has reached out to were able to help her.

“Counselors have tried to help me combat school bullying, and it only worked two out of three times,” said Sarah. “I went to a school counselor who was speechless. The best advice she could give me was to ignore the girls.”

Sarah said she believes that there needs to be a major change in the school system so that other students won’t have to go through what she did.

“It's a cycle that needs to be stopped,” she said. “I haven't seen any changes in the system at all.”

Studies by Yale University show that bullying victims are between two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims.

Because of statistics like these and experiences like Sarah's, many education systems have began to make reforms to combat school bullying.

Frank Finn, Fauquier County Public School’s assistant superintendent for student services and special education, said at a recent school board meeting that last year the school division made January its official “Anti-Bullying” month.

“We’re really broadening the scope and integrating our approach to work to improve student behavior with a clear focus on respect,” said Finn.

The Virginia Department of Education and the Department of Criminal Justice Services have made a requirement for all public schools in the state to administer school climate surveys.

“It yields very good information that informs the school about information relative to bullying, but it also addresses broader issues about student behavior within the school,” said Finn. “One of the things that you can really glean from that survey is what the students think and also what the teachers think. You can compare and contrast those perspectives.”

The Virginia Department of Education created the Virginia Tiered System of Support (VTSS), which is a framework that provides support and resources to help students be successful in behavior and academics.
“We’ve adopted the [VTSS] and are implementing it at many schools and piloting at other schools,” said Finn. “It’s a very comprehensive three tiered model that helps us effectively use data to track what’s going on in the schools with student behavior and strategically design interventions in place to improve student behavior.”

Sarah said that she tries her best to intervene when she sees other students getting picked on. She urges students who may be experiencing bullying to try to find help.

“ The advice I would give to other students is to no matter what, don't get down on yourself, despite what others say,” said Sarah. “Find someone that cares, and fight it. Surround yourself with friends, and don't get down on yourself, no matter what.”

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