12-year-old friends start anti-bullying campaign

Groton — They planned a bake sale fundraiser. They called up local reporters. They created a Facebook page and then a website, having seen ads on YouTube for the website builder Wix.

These are the steps that West Side Middle School seventh-graders Anna Choser and Gabriella Phillips took in the past week to launch their new anti-bullying campaign.

They're calling it the Be a Rose Campaign and are using the tagline "Be a rose in a bush of thorns."

"It pretty much means be a good person and stand out among the bad people," Anna explained.

She and Gabriella will be selling cupcakes, brownies, cookies and more from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday in the Groton Square Shopping Center, outside the Payless ShoeSource.

It will raise money for Kind Campaign, a nonprofit "that brings awareness and healing to the negative and lasting effects of girl-against-girl bullying through their global movement, documentary film, in-school assemblies and educational curriculums," according to the organization's website, www.kindcampaign.com.

"This is a big deal," Gabriella said about bullying.

Anna said that, about a month ago, people started writing mean things about her on the bathroom stalls, putting her into "a mild stage of depression."

She added that her peers — not only at West Side, but also students from Cutler and Bennie Dover Jackson middle schools — have been texting her to share their own stories.

Anna said she has heard from students with disabilities who "get bullied for things that they can't control, or just getting made fun of for their appearance or how they talk."

The two 12-year-olds would like to see their school do more to address bullying.

Assistant Superintendent Susan Austin said that when bullying is reported, "we address it right away, but we take the time to investigate and do a thorough job." She said West Side administrators have addressed the issue of writing on the walls and have talked about social media.

Austin explained that because of restorative justice practices, the response to bullying — when the bully is known — goes beyond just discipline.

"They also have to own up to it, and they also have to figure out a way to restore a relationship," she said.

Anna's mother, Jessica Post, feels that what Anna and Gabriella are doing is "very brave and commendable." Post has been helping with getting baking ingredients and making copies of flyers.

"My goal is to help them bring it the public's attention," she said, "that it's not something to be taken lightly, that it needs to be brought up more and more."

e.moser@theday.com

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