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Anti-bullying program gains more momentum

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Fifth grade teacher Jessica Flaherty plays a string game with one of her students, Destani Butler, 10, during a Girls Smart leadership event, held at Conway Elementary School, in Stafford County. The game teaches how to work smarter not harder. (RHONDA VANOVER/THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

Fifth grade teacher Jessica Flaherty plays a string game with one of her students, Destani Butler, 10, during a Girls Smart leadership event, held at Conway Elementary School, in Stafford County. The game teaches how to work smarter not harder. (RHONDA VANOVER/THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

Poverty in Malawi. Bullying in Pittsburgh. Parents in and out of jail in Stafford.

The women assembled in the Conway Elementary School gymnasium had endured rocky childhoods. But they overcame obstacles to become law enforcement officers, educators and military women.

For the annual Girl Smarts leadership panel, Dianna Flett likes to create a crew of women who can tackle any topic and set a good example for the girls in the anti-bullying program.

Girl Smarts is the brainchild of Flett, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and the mother of four boys. She collaborated with Laura Hoover, a guidance counselor at Margaret Brent Elementary School in Stafford.

Jen Raybold, a Reading Specialist from Grafton Elementary School, shares a story of being bullied as a student. Raybold took part in a leadership panel for a Girls Smart event held at Conway Elementary School, located in Stafford. (RHONDA VANOVER/THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

Jen Raybold, a Reading Specialist from Grafton Elementary School, shares a story of being bullied as a student. Raybold took part in a leadership panel for a Girls Smart event held at Conway Elementary School, located in Stafford. (RHONDA VANOVER/THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

Flett began the program in 2009 after hearing about the rise in girls cutting themselves. Flett worked for the FBI at the time, and she had developed a leadership program for the agency.

She wanted to create a similar program aimed at young women to prepare them for adolescence. Flett and Hoover both have sons.

“But we are girls,” Flett said. “So we know what it’s like.”

And that program has taken flight and is now available in seven Stafford County public schools, a private school, two Spotsylvania County schools and a Prince William County school.

Flett presented the Girl Smarts model at a national anti-bullying conference last summer, and will showcase the program again at this year’s National Girl Bullying and Relational Aggression Conference in Chicago.

Girl Smarts will also be featured in the national PTO Today magazine next month.

“Our teachers have so much on their plates, so many critical skills they need to deliver during the day, that having this sort of opportunity as an after-school program rounds out the total approach in supporting the growth of our girls into middle and high school,” Flett said.

Girl Smarts targets girls in the two years before they enter middle school.

At the leadership panel held last week at Conway, speakers emphasized the need to remain true to your character during the intense peer pressure that often occurs in junior high.

After the panel, the girls gave each speaker a Gerber daisy, which is the symbol of Girl Smarts.

“It comes in lots of different sizes and lots of colors, and occasionally you’ll see it with that little plastic piece on the stem because it needs a little help standing up,” Flett said. “And we all need a little help standing up at times, and that’s what Girl Smarts is all about.”

Amy Umble: 540/735-1973

aumble@freelancestar.com

 

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