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Girl's letter to newspaper leads to anti-bullying group

By Miller Reynolds

A 10-year-old girl’s letter to the editor has sparked a new anti-bullying group in the Quinte region.

The letter, written by a girl known as “Mary”, explained her experience of being bullied by her classmates to the point where she now wants to switch schools. The letter was published in the Belleville Intelligencer on March 13.

In the letter Mary says, “Sometimes I feel sick to go to school, I spend my lunches in the kindergarten room because I have nobody to play with at recess.”

The Parents Against Childhood Bullying group (P.A.C.B) has quickly gained a following with over 130 members in their Facebook group after the first week.

Leigh-Ann West Leeson, a friend of Mary’s mother, said she got involved in the group after she heard Mary was having a difficult time at the beginning of the school year. Leeson said the group is unique in their approach to prevent bullying.

“It’s more personalized, and we’re more for supporting the person. Letting them tell their story, letting them be heard, actually listening and trying to find a solution,” she said.

Leeson said her daughter has been a victim of cyber bullying, she said bullying has intensified in recent years.

“It’s not just sticks and stones anymore, it’s gotten to the point where it’s more physical, more abusive, more tormenting,” she said.

“We understand there’s going to be certain teasing growing up and everything, but when things escalate to the point where a child is scared to go to school, or is threatening to kill themselves, that’s way too far and it needs to stop,” she said.

Leeson said schools in the area are simply not offering enough information to their students about what support is available.

“I don’t think they’re doing nearly enough,” she said.

“A lot of schools have councillors but they’re only there once a month, it’s not enough because this bullying epidemic is escalating,” she said.

Leeson said schools in the area are posting anti-bullying posters to raise awareness, but nothing more, while the group is already beginning to make a difference.

“We have success stories already and it’s only been a week,” she said.

Lisa Cobb-Knightly, a member of the group and mother of two, said the focus is on learning about bullying and sharing information with families who are affected by the issue.

“We’re here to listen, gain education and resources ourselves so we can pass it on to all parties involved,” she said.

“A lot of parents out there don’t know what resources are available,” she said.

Cobb-Knightly said although physical bullying is common in schools today, name calling can be even more hurtful to children.

“Bullying is also emotional, and I think those are the ones that stand out and can scar the deepest. Being shunned by friends, being ignored, being alienated,” she said.

Kerry Donnell, communications officer for the Hastings Prince-Edward County School Board, said there are many practices in place to make schools safe, but said this group is welcome.

“More people who can become involved and who are willing to work together is always a good approach,” she said.

“We’re always looking to engage with parents, guardians and community partners.”

Donnell said a big part of the school board’s approach to bullying is their “Growing with Character” practice. This involves teachers and school staff to teach and abide by eight key words: Caring, cooperation, honesty, humour, integrity, respect, responsibility and trustworthiness.

Aside from teaching students to live by these words, Donnell said schools in the area are using bullying awareness strategies, violence prevention programs and student leadership opportunities.

Even with these practices in place, Donnell says the school board can always use an extra hand.

“There’s always more that can be done, and that’s why we’re so open to always hearing from parents, hearing from community members, hearing from anybody who has ideas, who wants to be involved,” she said.

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