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Club aims to curb negative behavior

February 01, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Casey Aldredge and Steph Scott remember how middle school girls bully each other about appearance and steal boyfriends from each other.

"We don't miss these years," said Steph, 17.

The pair are helping with a Waynesboro Area Middle School initiative to curb negative behavior displayed by adolescent girls. Club Ophelia is a national program designed to build healthy relationships among girls and provide them with positive ways of dealing with bullies.

"Girls bully in very different ways than guys. Guys are more physical," said Candice Whitsel, a retired middle school counselor who believed in Club Ophelia so much that she volunteered to direct the after-school program.

Girls bully through rumors, graffiti, silent treatment and exclusion, Whitsel said. They also use threats like "I'm not going to be your friend unless ...," which she said is a big deal for girls.

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Club Ophelia talks about not only the roles of bullies, but also those of victims and bystanders. Participants meet for two hours once a week for 10 weeks.

About 20 seventh- and eighth-graders are currently enrolled.

"I am participating in Club Ophelia mostly because I thought it'd be a good experience," said Sara Hoover, 13.

Sara's friend recommended the program and encouraged her to join. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Sara joined the other participants in acting out hurtful and helpful behaviors for photographs that will be made into posters.

"What I like about it so far is everyone is really nice and helpful. They don't make fun of you here," she said.

The first gathering of Club Ophelia involves viewing and discussing "Mean Girls," the 2004 movie in which Lindsay Lohan's character navigates her way around high school cliques. In later weeks, the girls make jewelry with club volunteer Margaret Lutske as they engage in discussions.

Club Ophelia participants talk about ways to react assertively, rather than aggressively. They're not supposed to ignore bad behavior, but address it in a way that educates the bully about her actions and involves adults if necessary.

"As a counselor, I used to spend a lot of time eighth-grade year mediating girl fights," Whitsel said.

In the few years that Club Ophelia has been active at Waynesboro Area Middle School, administrators have agreed with Whitsel that they've seen a healthier atmosphere and less fighting with the girls.




On the Web:

To learn more, go to www.clubophelia.com.

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