Jodee Blanco has made it her life's work to prevent children from having the experiences she had at the hands of bullies.
Simply for not fitting in, she was physically and emotionally abused from fifth grade through high school.
Now Ms. Blanco is a well-known activist against bullying and is sharing her story and giving advice to teachers, parents, and children on how to combat the problem.
She will share her program, "It's Not Just Joking Around," tomorrow at Notre Dame Academy.
Ms. Blanco will meet with students during the day and lead a teacher workshop from 3 to 5 p.m. The latter is open to all teachers in the area and no prior registration is required.
At 7 p.m. in the school's Ave Maria Performing Arts Center, Ms. Blanco will speak with parents, students, and the community at large. "The biggest problem in the United States relevant to bullying is that everyone - schools, teachers, parents - all define it as an act of cruelty," she said. "Bullying isn't just what you do, it is all the nice things you don't do."
It's letting a student sit alone at lunch or inviting everyone but him or her to a party, she said.
After sharing her story, Ms. Blanco will tell her audience what should never be said to a bullied child, talk about different types of popular students, and why traditional punishment doesn't work.
"I am there as the voice of their community's bullied students and I will be sharing with kids, teachers, and parents what they need to know to survive, heal, and provide the necessary compassion," she said.
Ms. Blanco of Chicago is the author of the best-seller Please Stop Laughing at Me and the sequel, Please Stop Laughing at Us … One Survivor's Extraordinary Quest to Prevent School Bullying.
Kim Grilliot, Notre Dame prin-cipal, said bullying "really exists from kindergarten into adulthood."
"We want our girls to stand up and say that's unacceptable and our teachers and staff will notice unacceptable behavior," she said.
Ms. Blanco's firsthand account will give people the recognition of the power of bullying, while also opening the discussion on ways a person can bully, Ms. Grilliot said.
"Language is one of the most hurtful things that can happen to secondary students," Ms. Grilliot said.
A local charter school already has implemented some of what Ms. Blanco advocates for prevention of bullying.
Bennett Venture Academy started this year a "Cocoa Club" for students to interact in a positive way.
Students there sit on a blanket, sip hot chocolate, and discuss with the school social worker and the other students what's going on in their lives.
"We really feel this is a great way for our kids to get together and work on communication skills, good decision making, and how to deal with conflict," said Nicole Herbert, the school's assistant principal.
The students also get challenges, such as inviting a peer they don't know to sit with them at lunch or writing a thank-you card to someone who doesn't get recognition, Ms. Herbert said.
The approximately one dozen students were referred to the program by their teachers.
"It's a way to build community. Children are less likely to bully if they have a connection with someone," she said. "And we have a moral focus as one of our pillars. With this, we really feel like we're working toward making sure our kids are achieving that with compassion and respect."
The program has been so popular with the fifth and sixth graders that the school is planning to expand it to grades seven and eight.