📷 Helen Boyle-Valentino.
Clockwise from top right: Magaliz Molina, Katie MacNeil, Erick Nordby and Nicole Duffy meet at Harry J. McMahon Field

“It takes a village, so let’s be a village”

By Sarah Champagne
Citizen Chronicle Managing Editor
Sarah@TheCitizenChronicle.com

SOUTHBRIDGE — A group of parents and concerned community members gathered at Harry J. McMahon Field Thursday night to discuss bullying and conflict resolution for Southbridge students. They plan to organize a group designed to address these issues.

“It takes a village, so let’s be a village,” Nicole Duffy suggested at the meeting. Other parents and concerned residents nodded in agreement.

The group initially came together through discussion on Facebook. Parents discussed frustration over unresolved conflicts and bullying at school. Many of those discussing the problem expressed that they had attempted to use official channels through the school system and were dissatisfied with the results.

“I want to create a group where we support each other as parents and work on solutions,” remarked Magaliz Molina.

“Parents don’t always know what to do, and kids can make themselves sick from the stress, physically and emotionally,” she continued.

The group, headed by Molina, Duffy and other concerned residents has moved the discussion from an initial thread on the“Focused On Southbridge” Facebook page to a designated group page. The new Facebook group is called Reforming Our Youth Support Group. This Facebook page will provide a central communication hub for parents, school system employees, and other concerned residents or community groups to get information about involvement.

“It’s about coping, it’s not about being tough. We want hopefully to be solution oriented. Everyone should be able to air their grievances, but then the discussion should be, ‘What do we do, what solutions can we look at?’” Duffy offered at the meeting.

The group discussed the possibility of teaching conflict resolution skills and coping skills for vulnerable students. The group will also look at the value of serving both perceived bullies and the victims, to increase understanding and healing. Other themes that emerged in the discussion at MacMahon field included promoting kindness and letting kids know that they are not alone.

The would also like to launch a mentoring program in which older students help their younger counterparts in coping with social challenges at school.

Duffy told the group that she has sent at least one child to Trinity Catholic Academy. She was impressed with their system of pairing eighth graders with younger students to provide guidance and mentorship. She would like to see a similar system of mentorship develop for a larger group of kids in Southbridge.

“We could do that,” Molina remarked, and the group began to discuss ways to make a mentorship program happen with the help of the community and the involvement of parents.

Erick Nordby and Katie MacNeil of Patriot Solar Cooperative in Southbridge also attended the meeting Thursday night as concerned community members. They expressed interest in helping the group establish programs and events over the summer. The goal is to get more parents and community members involved and to establish a plan for programming and membership before the start of the 2018 – 2019 school year.

“The parents have to grow together. Parents, teachers and everyone involved. We’re going to grow like crazy when we get this started,” Nordby remarked. “If you nip it in the bud early and back kids up so that it doesn’t get out of hand, that does so much.”

Earlier the same day, Sue Fafard-Desrosiers of Harrington’s Self Wellness Program offered support to the newly formed group, and to anyone else who needed access to bullying and conflict resolution resources. The Self Wellness Program appears throughout the community with the Harrington Mobile Services Van, and also has an office at 79 Sayles Street. The Self Wellness program can offer space for groups that want to meet to discuss bullying along with other information and resources. The Harrington Self Wellness Program can be reached on Facebook or by phone at (508) 764-2441.

The Reforming Our Youth Support group encourages anyone in the community to get involved, to share ideas or to seek support for bullying and conflict resolution. You can connect with the group by joining their Facebook page or by contacting Magaliz Molina at magalizmolina@gmail.com.

Molina welcomes all contributions and will post future meeting times in the Facebook group. “To start something, we have to start somewhere. Let’s stay together and change things for our kids,” Molina remarked.

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