Parents of adolescent girls in Northern Virginia know all too well that the movie “Mean Girls” isn’t far-fetched.
Mothers sometimes avoid interfering in their daughter’s social affairs because they don’t want to make matters worse, said Patsy Mangas, a mother who has stepped in with a different approach. Mangas started a chapter of Club Ophelia in Northern Virginia, and she said it has helped many middle school-age girls get through the difficulties of being an adolescent.
“What’s great is they learn they’re not alone,” said Mangas. “If kids are better educated, they’ll be able to handle it [bullying] better.”
Club Ophelia is an afterschool program that meets once a week for 90 minutes at Paul VI High School in Fairfax. The club was created in Pennsylvania by Dr. Cheryl Dellasega, an author of books about teen issues. The club’s Web site, ClubOphelia.com, offers training, speaking and other activities relevant to female bullying, or relational aggression as it’s referred to in the club. The girls participate in arts and crafts activities, while interacting with each other and talking about their feelings.
MANGAS’ CHAPTER meets every Tuesday, during the school year, and is open to any public or private middle school girl suffering from bullying or problems with friends. High school mentors, many of whom have gone through some kind of friendship problems themselves, attend each meeting to provide guidance to each girl.
“In my past I went through some things, and it’s just made me stronger,” said Claudia Salazar, a Club Ophelia mentor and junior at Paul VI High School. “I come here and I can tell them I went through it too.”
“The mentors are great,” said Mangas. “All of them have been through it.”
Another mentor from Paul VI High School is sophomore Annie Desmarais. She originally joined the club to obtain community service hours, but has grown to look forward to the meetings every week. Desmarais said the mentors relate to the younger girls by talking about similar experiences and providing ways to overcome them.
“We focus on honesty,” said Desmarais. “We try to make it so they have the confidence to fix the problem.”
SOME OF THE MIDDLE school girls say their problems have been fixed. Caroline Kristek, a sixth-grade student at St. Timothy’s school in Chantilly, said many of her problems with friends have gone away since joining the club.
“The mentors give us examples and different ways to work out the problem,” said Kristek. “We’ve solved a lot of them [problems] because of the club.”
Club mentor Angela Marino joined because she saw her younger sister go through friendship problems at the beginning of the school year. Marino remembered how tough it was to be a middle school girl and wanted to help her sister. She then wanted to help more girls suffering from friendship and bullying problems, she said.
“A lot of these girls have had bad stuff happen to them,” said Marino. “Even if you don’t have an answer, it’s still good to talk about it.”
In their final arts and crafts project, the girls decorated small, individual lamp shades with three subjects that reflect their character. Salazar’s had to do with good listening, advice and always being around for her friends. Many girls chose family and friends as subjects for the “Let Your Light Shine” project.
“We picked three things that light up our lives,” said Ryan Costello, a 10th-grade mentor from Paul VI High School.
This school year’s final meeting and closing ceremony was Tuesday, May 16, but Mangas said she hopes next year’s club will have even more members from a variety of public and private schools. The meetings will resume this fall.