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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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June012007

Olivia’s Letters

News coverage about a middle school student victimized by online and offline bullying has prompted a grassroots solidarity campaign. She’s received over 1,400 letters of support so far, and it’s serving as a teachable moment that no school should ignore.

Olivia Gardner was just a sixth grader when the bullying began two years ago. Previously diagnosed with epilepsy, Olivia was tormented by her peers because of the disease. In school, they’d call her “retard.” Online, they created an “Olivia Haters” page on MySpace and would use it to make fun of her. The school district eventually got involved, bringing in the families of the kids who were involved in the bullying, as well as holding a series of student assemblies on the problem. But it was too little, too late for Olivia, who soon transferred to another school.

The tormenting didn’t end there; Olivia would soon attend two other schools, unable to get away from the bullying. According to Olivia’s mother Kathleen, the two of them were approached by a student at one of the schools, who asked for their help regarding an allegedly abusive parent. After authorities got involved, the girl changed her story, and suddenly, Olivia was accused of trying to ruin her family. Her mother says that the bullying escalated, including phone calls, email and even an anti-Olivia bracelet campaign. Now 14 years old, Olivia is being homeschooled by Kathleen.

Olivia’s sad, yet all-too-common story might have ended there if it hadn’t been for Emily and Sarah Buder, a pair of teenaged sisters who heard about Olivia’s plight. They began organizing a letter-writing campaign among their friends in Marin County, CA, encouraging them to show their support for Olivia with words of hope or bullying stories of their own. As teachers became aware of the campaign, they started talking openly about bullying during class time. Eventually, the letters attracted the attention of Patti Agastston of the National Bullying Prevention Association, who’s helped them make “Olivia’s Letters” a national campaign.

“‘Olivia’s Letters’ is a perfect example of the power of the bystanders to make a difference when children are bullied,” Agatston told the Marin Independent Journal.

And it appears to be catching on. The Buder sisters have been contacted by other students around the country asking how to start their own campaigns. They’ve drawn the attention of media outlets around the country. And they’ve overwhelmed Olivia and her mother with the wave support that’s been generated for her.

“I think it’s amazing that everything is going together like this,” Olivia said. “Sometimes I just follow the advice that people have for me and it brings my mood up.”

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Olivia has received over 1,400 letters of support. Next week, she and her mom will be interviewed on the Today Show with the Buder sisters.

“Here is a really good ‘teachable moment’ story,” says online safety expert Nancy Willard, who wrote about it on the WWWEDU discussion group. “One of the best ways to prevent cyberbullying is to empower the bystanders. Teens really do have the ability to make a difference. You can use this story in your class for a discussion about how your students can respond proactively to address this concern. Please make time for this. It is important.”

Nancy is absolutely right. The news coverage around Olivia’s letters has created yet another opportunity for teachers to discuss bullying with their students and get them involved in a constructive way. The challenge, of course, is scaling this enormous goodwill so that it benefits the countless other kids who have also been bullied. -andy

Readers who wish to send letters of support to Olivia should direct their correspondences to Janet Buder. She and her two daughters will then pass along the letters to Olivia and her mother. You can send your letter via postal mail to Letters, c/o Janet Buder, 775 East Blithedale Ave. #106, Mill Valley, CA 94941 or e-mail them to janetbuder@aol.com.

Filed under : People, Safety

Responses

Olivia…
I saw you on the Today show…you are a very beautiful girl inside and out!!! and you are right— for every one bully there are 100 or maybe 1,000 or more good people!!! So glad you didn’t decide on suicide…it’s important to remember suicide ends up hurting those you love more…come to my music site and listen to “the healing song” if you’d like…i wrote it during a hard time in my life…you see we all have struggles and heartache and pain in our lives and have to deal with mean people “bullies” but if we stick together and only treat people like we would treat family then we will all be making this world a better place…keep being strong and thanks for inspiring girls like my niece who is eleven and who has also been bullied…oh and by the way those Buder girls are what I consider everyday hereos…please tell them so…love and peace and happiness to you and all young people who just need someone to understand…well I do… God Bless you Olivia…you are here for a reason and it is very special!!! love christy fields in Nashville, TN : )

Our website has information about what cyber bullying is, and what parents and educators can do about it. If you go to www.cyberbullyhelp.com, you will also see that, ultimately, Olivia’s letters and a similar campaign for other bullied children will be housed through the website. It is our hope that the information included on our site can be used to provide encouragement and information to those who bullied or who know someone who is being bullied. Sincerely, Robin Kowalski

Dear Olivia,

Hello my name is Chelsea Field. I am 22 years old and I am married to a Marine that is based here on Parris Island, South Carolina. I am writing to you to share my experience in being bullied in school and after I graduated from school. I am also writing to you to say that you are so beautiful and your sister’s are very lucky to have you as a sister. I have 2 sister’s myself and my little sister is 12 years old and she is also being bullied in school. I think the school system stinks (if thats a good word to say lol). The schools should be doing something better then what they do about bullies. Here’s my life being bullied.

I used to be and still bullied by:

-How skinny I was when I was in kindergarden through 12th grad.
-My clothes wasn’t good enough or didn’t fit correctly.
-I didn’t have money to go places like other kids did.
-Girls would get jealous cause I had alot of boy’s as friends. (I was a Tom Boy)
-I got put back into 3rd grad cause I felt like not studying because of people making fun of me.
-I was home schooled for one year (3rd grad) and once I came back to public schools people made fun of me.
-People would get jealous cause I would be friendly to anyone like the nerds and geeks that people called them.
-I didn’t care about what people looked like cause I was one of them that didn’t fit in and people would talk bad about me.
-Once I was a junior and senior in high school I started making friends that I thought were my friends and some turned on me after we all graduated.
-Once I began to work at many jobs I got made fun of cause I was a hard worker and people wanted to beat me up because of that.
-Many of my jobs had people that wanted to be better then me and didn’t want someone that looked pretty, worked hard, knew what the customer’s wanted before they ordered, had more hours then they did, and didn’t want a women to be over a man (like a women manager over a man employee).

There’s alot of pressure, judgement, jealously, harassment, and abuse in this world and I’m still being treated differently. My little sister is going through the same things I’ve been through already and I don’t know how to stop it. I feel like crying because I know how you and my sister feels and I know it hurts. I can’t get a job that will treat me with respect. My little sister had to change schools to because she was being bullied and this is her second school and she’s still being bullied.

I went threw alot and still going threw it and all of us “will” make a difference in this world and I truly believe that. I want you to know just by being yourself and enjoying life will make people turn their heads and they are the ones that are hurting and thats why they pick on people like us. Look what you have in your life. You have a wonderful family, a roof over your head, clothes on your back, food to eat, beautiful sister’s that care about you (even though you probably fight with them lol.), a loving mother, and I’m pretty sure that there’s other people out there that love you the way that you are. By the way I totally love your hair lol.

I hope that you get this letter and I wish you the best of luck. Keep in touch. My e-mail is baby2004_85@yahoo.com my myspace is lucky_14_68@yahoo.com thats me and my husbands myspace. So hopefully I hear from you girly.

Sincerely your dearest friend,
Chelsea Field

Bullying is deeply hurtful, very traumatizing, and it is wrong. The bullies are cruel, they know what they are doing, and they intend it to hurt. Sometimes teachers know what’s going on, and yet they do nothing to stop it or even perpetuate it on purpose.

I was a victim of bullying as a young child in elementary school. I was confident, happy, and well-liked at a previous elementary, but when my parents moved, I went to a new school. On day one, the meanness began, the isolation, the hurt, name-calling, taunts…..I became a shell of myself, and it took me years to even start healing. To this day, I still suffer the effects of trauma and have trouble trusting people.

All I can say is, if someone ever tries to bully me again, or if someone tries to bully my children or someone I am close to, I will sue the bully or bully’s parents to the fullest extent of the law. Bullying needs to be taken seriously, and it needs to be prevented or stopped. It is wrong and no one deserves to be treated like that.

Olivia,
I understand bullying, but I learned it a different way. I was the bully. I learned how bad it can hurt peoples feelings and then when i stopped my friends made fun of me and i realized i was in the wrong crowd. I hope you are better soon.

Dear Olivia,

Our class feels your pain. My classmate has been bullied for 5 years. And my other classmate has been bullied for about 3 years. We just read about you in the scholastic news. We are in the 5th grade. Do you know who our teacher is , Alex Hertz. He wrote to you more than a year ago. We feel really bad for you because you were bullied so much. Also I can’t belive you were bullied by all those people, and the teachers, parents didn’t do anything about it. We’re glad you’re doing so well now. Good luck! Sulaiman Shabazz and Ariel Williams, Sunset School San Francisco, CA

Dear Olivia,
I feel your pain and Im very sorry that people are so cruel as to bully you in person and cyberly. Just please stay strong and hold your head up high, be the role model that you are for young kids around the world today. May the future be the key to your happiness. Much love always,
Kati

I watched your vedio and I was crying if i were there i would gaurd you cause tha story is so sad that i was crying then i preyed to god that nothing would ever happen to you.

I really think that you must not be bullied because you are buitifull insie and outside a buitifull girl like you shouldnt be bullied.If you can Olivia i am adding youon myspace my name is JO$E I AM IN COOL GLASES HAVE A GREEEN DARK BLACK WHITE ON THE TOP OF MY SHIRT.

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