2011-10-08 / News

Thornville mom takes on bullying

By Scott Rawdon

THORNVILLE – In the wake of tragedy, a Thornville mom created a group to end bullying in her local school district and, she hopes eventually, all school districts.

“It’s really grown in leaps and bounds, said Thornville resident Shannon Mangon. She lost her 16-year-old daughter Lauren K. Wright in a tragic car accident July 4 while Lauren was returning from watching fireworks. To make matters worse, Lauren’s life was anything but easy leading to the accident, as she was relentlessly bullied at Sheridan High School.

“Once she was beaten up six times,” said Mangon, then suspended for defending herself. Lauren couldn’t escape the abuse. Mangon said her daughter was “cyber bullied” via text messages and other electronic media even when she wasn’t at school.

Mangon said Lauren proved she didn’t send a bullying message to another student, but she fell further and further into depression and even spent time at a hospital on suicide watch. “She ended up walking with her head down. It was just terrible,” said Mangon, who felt helpless. She said she spoke to school officials who said Lauren was an instigator and fueling her own problems. Mangon said the bullying began when Lauren was in middle school and was associated with a relationship she had with a boy. As time wore on, the bullying worsened. Mangon wasn’t making any progress and didn’t know of any organization that could offer help.

It took Lauren’s death for people to begin listening. Mangon decided to take a stand to end bullying in Northern Local Schools and schools everywhere. She created Rise Above, a peer group for students who experience bullying and their parents. “You can rise above the situation,” she said. “You don’t have to be part of the drama.” Rise Above meets Tuesday evenings, 6:30 p.m., at Mangon’s Thornville home at 131 E. Columbus Street. Her goal is for students to learn that they can’t change others, but they can choose to change themselves and the way they react to bullying.

She hopes they learn to practice forgiveness instead of retaliation and use a “cooling off” period and peer and mentor support to diffuse fights and arguments. “Kids don’t realize they are being bullies when they respond angrily,” said Mangon.

She urges students to go to the source when faced with gossip and rumors, and all members perform random and anonymous acts of kindness in the form of a weekly challenge. They may be asked to place anonymous notes with positive messages in five lockers that week, for example.

Mangon said Rise Above is attracting national media attention with CNN’s Anderson Cooper and its Facebook following has grown to more than 350 members. “I’m really excited about it,” she said. “This is something every school should have. This is a huge, huge problem. I’m just trying to do something.”

“We have many bullying prevention programs at our elementary, middle and high schools,” said Northern Local Superintendent Thomas Perkins. In general, Perkins said there is a program at Somerset Elementary school begun by its PTO and principal last spring that uses social stories with students to talk about what bullying is, why people become bullies and what students can do if they are bullied.

“Our principals also meet with students during detention times to discuss their behavior and read a social story to provide a guide to reflection and guide discussions about better choices in the future,” he said.

The middle school has several character building activities that include standing up against bullies and sticking together in order to make a safer school. “You can walk their hallways and see all of the posters of the program that strive to bring awareness to bullying and the importance of supporting one another,” said Perkins.

He said the high school started advisor/advisee groups that pair a staff member with a small group of students who will remain with that group through their entire high school career. “The goal is to build relationships and trust so that student will feel comfortable coming to staff with questions, problems and concerns,” said Perkins. “Some of these may include being bullied.” He said there are many other programs and practices that exist within each building.

Mangon said there are clues that children are being bullied, even if they are unwilling to tell anyone. “Speaking from my experience with my own daughter, I would say the symptoms of bullying are similar to those of depression because they often go hand in hand,” she said.

Things for parents to look for include a change in appearanceclothing, hairstyle, and makeupas the student is likely trying to change his or her self so the bully won’t have anything to make fun of, grades dropping, or disinterest in things that they used to enjoy, particularly school-related activities.

“After-school sports activities are typically where bullies will make good on their threats of violence,” she said. The student may be getting in trouble at school. “My daughter was labeled an ‘instigator’ because she couldn’t ‘keep her mouth shut,’” said Mangon.

Parents who suspect their children are being bullied should watch for a sudden appearance of new friends or hanging with the “wrong” crowd. “When kids are singled out by bullying, they often will make friends with anyone else they can in hopes that the new ‘friends’ will help protect them,” she said.

Mangon said Rise Above has 70 to 80 members attending weekly meetings and she expects the program to continue its growth. “Our group has grown so fast that my house is no longer big enough and we are working to renovate our garage in hopes of having a bigger meeting space,” she said.

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