OCRCC Taking Steps to End Bullying, Harassment

Bullying can appear in many ways and in many places ranging from school to the home. But bullying also often shows itself in the form of interpersonal or sexual violence.

“Several researchers who look into sexual violence prevention have proposed the theory that sexual harassment in middle school is a building block behavior that if unchecked, eventually leads to more severe forms of sexual violence later on,” said Rachel Valentine, Community Education Director for the Orange County Rape Crisis Center.

She says the center has a program they teach in elementary and middle schools called SafeTouch. And they have one for high schools called Start Strong.

“We start to shift from talking about how your body belongs to you,” Valentine said. “So no one should be touching you or treating you in a way that you don’t like, to how that applies to other people.”

Rachel Valentine spoke with Aaron Keck this week on WCHL.


After starting conversations like this in elementary and middle school, they switch to discussing ideas of consent and harassment in high schools. Valentine says most bullying in today’s day and age is actually considered identity-based harassment, or expressed violence towards someone based on his or her race, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic status and other factors.

“I think we would be better prepared to actually prevent bullying if we stop to really think about what leads children to do this,” she said.

Valentine said having programs in schools and teaching children at an early age about interpersonal and sexual violence, the more students are to be active bystanders, willing to protect others against that violence. They’re also more likely to seek verbal consent in their sexual relationships.

“We’re not in the business of teaching a generation of kids how to protect themselves from harm,” she said. “We’re in the business of teaching a generation of kids how to engage with one another without causing harm.”

Valentine said this can be achieved by activities that encourage school connectedness. She says students who are connected to their schools are more likely to be the ones to step in and prevent violence wherever they can. She also says the first step to preventing all types of relationship violence is to recognize and listen to victims.

“If someone is coming forward to say that they have experienced this type of harm, we need to start by believing,” she said. “And then go from there in terms of what the educative response can be for the person who’s done it to them.”

Even though October is National Bullying Prevention month, OCRCC has informational prevention programs for students, families and community members all year long. More information can be found here.


Back To School, OCRCC Keeps Kids Safe

Students and teachers aren’t the only ones heading back to school.

Volunteers from the Orange County Rape Crisis Center are also heading into local classrooms with their annual safety education programs, teaching kids to say no to bullying and unwanted touching from peers and adults alike.

The OCRCC has two education programs, “Safe Touch” and “Start Strong.” Designed for elementary schools, “Safe Touch” works to prevent child sexual abuse by teaching kids the difference between safe and unsafe touching and encouraging kids to “say no, get away, tell someone” if they experience unwanted touching or abuse. “Start Strong” is an anti-bullying program for middle and high schools – also designed to teach students the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

And the OCRCC also has a training program for adults: called “Stewards for Children,” the program sends volunteers to organizations that work with kids, to teach their staff to recognize the signs of child sexual abuse and take the proper steps when they see something. The national nonprofit Darkness to Light has recognized the OCRCC as a “Partner in Prevention” for this program.

OCRCC Community Education Director Rachel Valentine spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck this week.


For more information about the OCRCC and its in-school programs, visit OCRCC.org.


Phillips Middle Students, Staff Take a Stand Against Bullying

Students, teachers, counselors and administrators at Phillips Middle School all made an extra effort last week to make sure that everyone does their part to prevent bullying.

“Try to sign kind of small,” said Six-Grade Counselor Aaron Murphy, to a line of Phillips Middle School students waiting to sign an anti-bullying pledge posted on a wall of the cafeteria on Oct. 22. “We’ve got to fill a lot of spaces.”

Students signed the pledge poster and wore orange in support of Unity Day, a nationwide effort of the PACER National Bullying Prevention Center, which has been promoting Anti-Bullying month all through October.

In preparation for the big day, some of the kids participated in a rap video produced, directed and edited by School Counselor – and, apparently, rapper — Kevin Duquette.

“Our whole student services department is going to be in the lunches, talking with kids,” said Duquette. “That way, if kids want to talk to us about bullying, we’re all here.”

Phillips has a history when it comes to the bullying issue.

Back in 2011 and 2012, students, parents and staff spoke out about what they called a serious bullying problem at the school. Demonstrations and a lawsuit followed, and Principal Cicily McCrimmon ended up leaving.

Principal Rydell Harrison is new at the school. He said that Unity Day presents an opportunity to remind kids of the importance of a safe school environment.

Harrison said he understands what happened in the past, and that the best antidote to bullying is education.

He added that the school has a no-tolerance policy. All reports of bullying at Phillips are investigated, either by himself or Assistant Principal Kristin Walker.

“The most important thing about that whole process is what happens after,” said Harrison. “And that’s intervention. That’s where we’re really blessed to have some great counselors, and our school social worker.”

Eleven-year-old Riley Akos, a sixth-grader at Phillips, said she hasn’t experienced bullying personally, but she recognizes that prevention is important.

“I have not seen any, like, physical bullying,” said 11-year-old Riley Akos. “But I’ve seen cyber bullying, and, like, exclusion from some of the sixth graders here.”

Jacob Summers, also 11, said he has a more personal experience with bullying.

“I’ve been bullied a couple of times before because I have glasses, and I’m not as athletic as other people,” said Jason. “And I’ve also seen bullying, because, well, it happens almost always, and I want to help prevent that.”


On “Unity Day,” Phillips Middle School Fights Bullying

At Chapel Hill’s Phillips Middle School, this Wednesday is “Unity Day” – as students, staff and faculty come together to fight bullying.

“All of our students are going to come out wearing orange, the national color for anti-bullying,” says school counselor Kevin Duquette. “We’re also going to have a banner in the cafeteria that the students will be signing as a pledge against bullying here at Phillips.”

Unity Day is actually a national day, sponsored by the Minnesota-based PACER Center and held at schools across the country.

Learn more about “Unity Day” and National Bullying Prevention Month.

At Phillips, the campaign against bullying has taken on a bit more meaning since a public dispute that broke out in 2011 and 2012. Students, parents, and some staff spoke out about a serious bullying problem at the school; there were even demonstrations outside Phillips, as well as a lawsuit, and then-principal Cicily McCrimmon stepped down amid the controversy.

Assistant principal Kristin Walker had just arrived at Phillips in 2011. She says even then, in spite of the public perception, Phillips was really no different from any other school – but she says the school has made great improvements since then, largely because of a commitment to anti-bullying education.

“We have the same issues that other middle schools do,” Walker says, “but we have done a lot to proactively address those concerns in the last few years, namely around educating our kids through our guidance department, our student services department – going in and doing classroom lessons on what bullying looks like and what to do if you see such things going on.

“I would say that Phillips is a safe school – I think Phillips was a safe school (in 2011-12) as well – but I also think that the more educated we all get about it, the safer we are in the end.”

School counselors like Duquette have taken the lead on anti-bullying education, but it’s been a school-wide project. A discussion in P.E. classes about developing positive peer relationships, for instance, eventually grew into a wider campaign where students highlighted each other’s differences as things to celebrate, rather than reasons to ostracize.

Principal Rydell Harrison says those are the things that make him proudest.

“Helping students create this kind of grassroots movement around creating safe spaces for themselves – I think that really is the thing that we’re seeing take off,” he says. “And I’m really proud of that, and I think the staff has been supportive of that as well.”

While the anti-bullying campaign goes on all year, the month of October is recognized as National Bullying Prevention Month.


The Color Purple

Estimates of the total spent on the election we all just survived hover around $6 billion.  No, that “B” is not a typo.  

How many transit systems could be modernized with that money?  How many more cancer research studies could be funded?  Or, perhaps more on point for some, how much could the nation’s deficit have dropped?  For those who funded SuperPACs hoping to influence the way this country works, isn’t there some sort of direct funding option?  And maybe that direct funding has the benefit of being a bit less divisive and perhaps even actually creates jobs instead of talking about doing so?  

In raising the questions above, I am joining the finger-pointing fray and so I take myself to task.  In the words of a very smart friend, “It’s time to move forward.”  Chapel Hill resident Vicki Threlfall was not parroting slogans when she said that, as she continued to say it’s time to “focus on improving- not winning.”  

She’s right, Congress.  She’s right, State Legislature.  No more gamesmanship and no more brinksmanship.  No more late night votes, no more digging in and being unwilling to negotiate.  It’s time to do the job you were elected to do:  work for the betterment of this state and this country.  

It’s time to get out of some schoolyard mentality and stop the bullying.  Americans are united by the fact of our differences.  To the man driving in front of me the other day whose bumper proclaimed the need to “Defend Freedom” by “Defeating Obama”,  there are other car tushes out these asking for different freedoms to be protected that I’m guessing you do not countenance.  Aren’t we all entitled to ask for freedoms?  Isn’t that what joins us?  

Let’s go beyond the need to work together; elected leaders should respect the differences between them.  Is it a question of faith?  It’s deserving of respect?  Does someone highly value education?  That’s also deserving of respect.  No more sneering and belittling the values of others.  How is it that the baseline of behavior expected from most children isn’t required of our leaders?  It should be and we should demand it.  

Sadly, I feel a bit like Don Quixote writing this, tilting at windmills.  But if we don’t talk about how it should be and what we expect from the people to whom we give these jobs and – don’t forget- pay their salaries (and their fabulous healthcare plans), nothing will change.  

Also, I recently saw this, a map of what the country really looks like, with very few states being all red or all blue and I decided that purple is my new favorite color!

Please leave your suggestions below for how to incite civil discourse or write to me at Donnabeth@Chapelboro.com.