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Confronting Bullying: Community Discusses Ways to Help Adolescents in Hartford

  • Ashley Hutton, a counselor at Second Growth, writes down examples of solutions to bullying during the small group portion of a bully prevention forum in the gymnasium at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on  Oct. 21, 2013. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Ashley Hutton, a counselor at Second Growth, writes down examples of solutions to bullying during the small group portion of a bully prevention forum in the gymnasium at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on Oct. 21, 2013.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kathy Hemenway who works for the Department of Children and Families in Hartford explains some possible solutions for a bullying conflict during a conversation on bully prevention in the gymnasium at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on  Oct. 21, 2013. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Kathy Hemenway who works for the Department of Children and Families in Hartford explains some possible solutions for a bullying conflict during a conversation on bully prevention in the gymnasium at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on Oct. 21, 2013.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ashley Hutton, a counselor at Second Growth, writes down examples of solutions to bullying during the small group portion of a bully prevention forum in the gymnasium at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on  Oct. 21, 2013. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Kathy Hemenway who works for the Department of Children and Families in Hartford explains some possible solutions for a bullying conflict during a conversation on bully prevention in the gymnasium at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on  Oct. 21, 2013. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Hartford — With the use of social networking sites becoming more prevalent, the ways adolescents can be bullied has gone beyond the third row on the school bus or the dim corridor in the far wing of the school building.

Today, a message or a picture can be uploaded onto a social media site for thousands to see — and that very message echoed throughout the Hartford High School gymnasium at Monday night’s bullying and cyberbullying prevention forum.

“Cyberbullying brings the bullying to a 24-hour level,” said Dan Cornell, manager of The Junction, Listen’s Teen Life Skills Center. “In the past it could be defined to school, but with the advent of cyberbullying it can really follow you home.”

Monday night marked the third of five events at Hartford High School aimed at promoting emotional health and well-being within the Hartford community. The event comes five months after two Hartford teenagers, 14-year-old Ashley DeMond and a 15-year-old boy died in separate suicides.

Merrilyn Tatarczuch-Koff, a mother of two daughters in Hartford Memorial Middle School, said the event series is the first step to seeing change in the Hartford community.

“I am very concerned about bullying. It happens in our community,” Tatarczuch-Koff said. “(And) the community is part of the solution. We can’t expect teachers to fix this or for parents to fix this. We have to come together. If we can come together, hopefully this is the beginning of a solution.”

On Monday night, law enforcement officers, teachers, school board members, parents and a few students were among the roughly 45 attendees that gathered to talk about bullying and cyberbullying, its signs and ways individuals can discuss — especially to children — bullying.

Those who attended Monday night were split into four small groups which discussed a mock situation where a student was being bullied by an ex-partner. The conversations surrounded what should be said to the victim and the perpetrator and who needs to be involved in the situation. Event leaders asked that real life scenarios only be discussed after the event.

Participants collectively said talking to both parties involved listening to both sides, telling an adult, and realizing that there are real consequences for bullying and cyberbullying. All are crucial conversations to have.

“It’s the dialogue that’s important,” said Colleen Newton Pause, a mother of two children in the school system and two who have graduated. “As a parent I can talk to my kids, I can talk to my spouse, but unless I am in a situation where I’m around other parents and it’s a safe place for us to talk about this kind of stuff, you don’t feel the support of the community or the support of the school, you kind of feel like you are on an island by yourself.

“And I think it helps to know that there are other parents that are thinking the same way you are thinking and want to facilitate change. It feels that you can actually make a difference when there is more than just you involved.”

Many leaders from the nearly two dozen local agencies who work together under the name Multi-Agency Community Council were present Monday night and offered their expertise during PowerPoint presentations and while leading the discussion groups.

More than 38 people from two dozen agencies came together after the suicides earlier this year to address community concerns and also raise awareness of organizations that can assist adolescents .

“The beauty of this is we are all grassroots,” Scott Farnsworth, Hartford School District’s K-12 director of counseling services, said in an interview Monday afternoon. “We came together out of a need for supporting one another and our hurting kids and our hurting families.”

Nov. 18 and Dec. 16 will mark the final scheduled forums, one surrounding gender, media, sexuality and relationship, and the latter, substance use and abuse.

“I would rate the event at least a nine,” said School Board Chairman Kevin Christie. “The only reason I am not going to give it a 10 is because I wish we would have had more people. Something we will have to work on is getting the word out because maybe they don’t all have to come, as we know there are so many ways to get people informed.”

Guidance counselor Farnsworth said the reactions throughout the group discussions spoke for themselves.

“There were a lot of ‘ah-ha’ moments for everybody sitting here, which was really the brilliance of having the discussions because we all learn from each other,” Farnsworth said. “We all come to the table from different experiences and if people leave here with a few more tools in their pocket from what they heard from someone else or something on the (information) table, then so be it.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jucddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.