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Taking On Challenging Words, Bullies

Two Vienna middle-school students relate their recent activities.

Two area middle-schoolers recently excelled in activities outside the school. Here are their profiles:

Jarel Cohen

Catharsis. Extol. Enigma. While words like those are not normally in the vocabulary of eighth-graders, Kilmer Middle School student Jarel Cohen of Great Falls has used those words just within the past two weeks. As a contestant in a national word competition, he needed to know not only how to spell those words but to understand how those words are used in a sentence.

After winning first place at the state level, Jarel placed 11th out of 55 in the Reader's Digest National Word Power Challenge, which took place last week in Orlando, Fla.

"I was kind of pleased, 11 out of 1.6 million," said Jarel, mentioning the number of students in grades four through eight who competed in classrooms and schools across the nation.

Jarel's win started at Kilmer, where he won the classroom and grade-level competitions. When he advanced to the state level, he hadn't prepared for the competition.

"We thought I'd do well, but we didn't think I was going to win," Jarel said.

But when he achieved first place at the state level, Jarel knew he had some preparation ahead of him. He and his parents studied vocabulary from SAT preparation books. His parents' friends would e-mail their favorite words to Jarel. On the way down to the national competition in Orlando, airplane staff announced over the loudspeakers to pass their favorite words to the family.

Although Jarel wasn't among the top 10 finalists at the national level, both he and his parents are impressed he got so far. The trip to Florida was a nice bonus for them as well, with all expenses paid.

"I've come back and found myself using a much broader vocabulary," Jarel said.

When Jarel isn't spelling, he can be found making Friday morning announcements on WKMS, Kilmer's television program. He is also student government vice president and a National Junior Honor Society member. He also made the all-stars teams for baseball and basketball.

Jarel will attend Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology next year and hopes to attend Stanford University, the Naval Academy or the University of Virginia as an engineering major before earning a law degree and possibly working in politics.

"Jarel was an outstanding representative for Virginia in the Reader's Digest Word Power Competition," said Sheila Clawson, Jarel's English teacher. She had also gone down to Orlando for the competition. "He was very close to competing in the final 10. It was a rigorous competition, and he certainly gave it his best. I was very proud of his performance."

Molly Feazel-Orr

At Thoreau Middle School in Vienna, seventh-grader Molly Feazel-Orr occasionally finds herself being teased. Months ago, she might have taken the jabs to heart. But today, she wants the teasing to stop.

Molly was one of 18 students nationwide who helped establish a Web site on bullying prevention. From last summer until early March, Molly and the student panel provided stories and examples of bullying in their schools, in order to illustrate how bullying can be stopped.

"It's cool meeting other people who have the same goal as you do," said Molly.

The Web site was a project through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Called "Take a Stand. Lend a Hand. Stop Bullying Now," the campaign uses stories with fictional characters to help students cope with bullying.

The students who participated in the project were in one of three categories: They were bullied, they are bystanders, or they are bullies themselves.

In addition to the 18 students, ages 9-13, who served on the youth expert panel, more than 70 health, safety, education and faith-based organizations participated in the campaign.

"When a child is bullied, it affects their mental health. It sometimes affects their physical health, when a child doesn't want to go to school," said Kay Garvey, communication director for the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) within the HHS. She added that one out of four children are bullied. Bullying "takes a lot away from them."

Bullying occurs in both genders, according to an HHS press release. Bullying among boys often involves physical intimidation such as pushing and shoving. For girls, bullying occurs through teasing, social exclusion and gossiping.

For the panel, Molly recounted her experiences with bullying. Although she said no physical bullying occurs at Thoreau, she is teased for being Asian.

From the other panelists, Molly learned that at other schools, bullying takes on different meanings: Besides discrimination and put-downs, some students witness fights on their buses or guns brought to their schools.

After participating in the panel, Molly feels better equipped to handle bullying. Like the other panelists, Molly is willing to offer advice to anyone who has been bullied. As part of the bullying prevention campaign, she and other panelists facilitated a bullying workshop at a Washington, D.C., public school last March. She hopes she can bring the knowledge she has gained on bullying to Thoreau.

"Tell someone immediately. You can go to the Web site and get more information. Try not to make it a huge deal, because that way the bully won't get much attention," Molly said.

"If you see bullying, you can tell a parent and they can tell the school, or you can get a bunch of friends to tell the bully to stop," she said.

For more information on Stop Bullying Now, go to www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov.