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Bullies Beware

Halley Elementary kicks off new bully prevention program.

Halley Elementary had students so excited they were rapping, break dancing and doing the worm Tuesday night, and all in the name of bullying.

The student rap group that was so energized was the Bully Nots, a cadre of Halley Elementary students dedicated to informing children about bullying at their school through dance and rap. Their performance excited the crowd at the kick off of the implementation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program at Halley. As keynote speaker at the event Miss Virginia 2006, Adrianna Sgarlata, shared her own story of being bullied as a student at Clifton Elementary and how it inspired her to work to stop bullying in Virginia schools.

“This is something that is so important to me,” Sgarlata told the crowd of Halley parents and students. The Fairfax Station native was bullied herself in the fifth grade and resorted to faking stomach aches to get out of school. After her parents and teachers caught on to her deception they began sending her to school despite her protests.

“There has to be open communication,” Sgarlata said. When she got appendicitis later in the school year no one believed her complaints until her appendix burst and she had to be rushed to the hospital.

Sgarlata went on to win the Miss Virginia pageant in 2006 and has been using her title to push for more bullying prevention in Virginia schools.

“I’ve been on a school tour for seven months,” she said. “The students here are more excited than any I've seen." Halley is beginning the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, a program developed in the 1990s which “puts more focus on supporting the victim," according to Darlene Pulliam. The program, empowers everyone to speak up, be honest, and come and report bullying, added Phoebe Boatright.

Pulliam and Boatright are guidance counselors at Halley who wrote the grant which brought the Olweus program to Halley. "It's something that we've been working toward for eight years," said Boatright. Still, a recent survey conducted by the Halley administration found that 21.6 percent of students grades 3-6 say that they have been bullied 2-3 or more times a month, and 5.8 percent of students admit to have bullied others 2-3 times or more.

To combat this, Halley has placed anti-bullying rules school wide and has developed a Bullying Offenses Rubric to implement concrete consequences for bullying behavior. The consequences range from the writing of an incident report and a call home for first offenses for things like teasing and name calling to the notification of the School Security Officer and punishment from the administrator for intimidation or aggressive behaviors.

"The myth that bullies are insecure is a myth,” said Boatright, and the key to taking that power is to make the victims and bystanders comfortable coming forward. But hurdles remain. “Girls don’t report because they’re afraid they’ll become the victims,” said Boatright. Increasing awareness helps solve these problems, though. “The more we teach it,” she said, “the more we get children feeling empowered and coming forward.”

One way to increase awareness has been with the Bully Not group. The Bully Nots started eight years ago as a skit and music group. The performers have become popular at the school for their rapping under the supervision of music teacher Gwen Ward. “Everybody wants to be a Bully Not,” said Ward of the group’s success. The eight members of the Bully Nots visit classrooms and assemblies dancing and rapping with their energetic mix of message and attitude. “We’re hoping that it will catch on and we’ll be able to take it to other schools,” said Ward.

The anti-bullying bug is catching on because of these programs. One of the most surprising results, said Sgarlata, is that, “kids that are bullying didn’t realize they were doing it,” and have stopped once they learned. "If we can reach them while they're young, by the time they get to middle school they'll be so much better off," she said.