July 23, 2008

Girls Learn About Bullies


Bullying among girls -- even those who are friends -- can make growing up painful.

It happens in neighborhoods, school hallways and cafeterias every day, and often teachers and parents don't have a clue it's happening.

"It's just not physical," said Greensboro Day School teacher Melissa Norman. "It's very covert It's the whispering and spreading rumors."

Norman wants to educate more people about the issue of relational aggression among girls. She has founded a nonprofit organization called Girl CHARGE, which stands for Creating Habits of Acceptance, Respect and Gratitude for Everyone.

She's using the Camp Ophelia curriculum, which focuses on relational aggression among girls, as her organization's first project.

Cheryl Dellasega, a professor at Pennsylvania State University who created the Camp Ophelia curriculum, describes relational aggression as "the use of behaviors, rather than fists, to deeply hurt another."

At New Garden Friends Meeting last week, Norman taught a group of rising fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders about the issue through role-playing, crafts, writing and other activities. They learned to identify relational aggression, which can include back turning, facial expressions or eye-rolling, and how to stop it or prevent it in their peer groups.

The girls talked about friendship, self-esteem, body image and popularity.

In one journal exercise, 11-year-old Marlee Hassell wrote: "Camp Ophelia is helpful to girls because it teaches girls to look beyond another girl's appearance and get to know her better. It also teaches girls to not become bullies."

During one activity on Wednesday, Norman asked them if they believed all popular girls are role models.

"I think sometimes they can be role models, and sometimes they're not," said Mary Hannah Shinn, 10.

When the girls discussed whether they wanted to be part of the popular group, Norman told them that kind of decision can be a struggle.

"We're torn," she said. "We don't know where we want to be." She told them they could go back to their schools and neighborhoods as role models for other girls.

"Other girls can look up to you," she told the girls.

Norman remembers dealing with the problem as a girl.

"I have memories that have just haunted me," she said.

On the bus during fourth grade, Norman would hear a pair of girls behind her torment another girl sitting nearby. Every day, they'd talk loudly about her clothes or hair.

Norman wanted them to stop, but was afraid to confront them.

During fifth grade, when Norman was known as Missy, some girls created an "I hate Missy" club when she befriended a new girl.

"They thought I was ditching them for a new friend," she said. The entire fifth grade joined the club, save for a few girls.

One "club member" even held a meeting in her backyard playhouse.

"Those two events, which happened 20 years ago, have spurred me to help other girls in similar situations," Norman said.

Her programs will focus on elementary and middle school age girls, and she plans to incorporate high school mentors. She is pursuing grants and donations and hopes eventually to make Girl CHARGE her full-time focus.

"This is my passion helping girls through these so-called rites of passage," she said.

When Norman taught Camp Ophelia to middle school students, she found many of them were already jaded about relational aggression because they had experienced it so much already. Norman had to modify her curriculum, "trying to kind of undo some of the hurt," she said.

She wants to help parents recognize relational aggression and change which behaviors they tolerate. "We need to realize that these girls don't just get over it," she said.

For information on Girl CHARGE programs, e-mail Melissa Norman at [email protected]

Contact Jamie Kennedy Jones at [email protected] or 336-449-4610

(c) 2008 Greensboro News Record. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.