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Local teen creates Web site for youth victims of bullying

By Staff | Feb 3, 2009

The Lee County School District is trying to determine the prevalence of bullying in schools as it implements a new bully policy modeled after the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up For All Students Act.
Of course, school officials are not the only ones trying to get a true reading of how prevalent bullying is in schools.
Fabianna Pergolizzi, a 17-year-old student at the Community School of Naples, created “Project Anti Bully” in 2005 to determine the pervasiveness of the issue. She sent out a survey from Child Abuse Prevention Services across Southwest Florida and parts of the United States asking students how often they experience bullying and about their reactions to being bullied.
The project was dedicated to Jeffrey Johnston, the Cape Coral student who took his own life in 2005 because of continual bullying and taunting at school.
Bullying in Jeffrey’s case not only showcased how cruel students can be on school grounds, but also introduced local families to the increasing trend of cyberbullying where students are harassed on Web sites or messaging programs.
The Stand Up For All Students Act is the first law to deal specifically with cyberbullying.
Pergolizzi said she was bullied throughout elementary and middle school and wanted to do something for other students.
“When I was being bullied, I felt so isolated and alone I was afraid to communicate to adults and parents. You are afraid of it getting worse,” she said.
According to Pergolizzi’s study, 86 percent of students across the country admitted to being bullied daily at school. She said she did not expect the results of the survey to be so high.
“That was a huge surprise. When I was being bullied I was sure there were other students, but I felt so isolated I wasn’t aware of how many,” she said.
As the Lee County School District implements its new policy to curb bullying, schools have set up a process for students to anonymously report cases of bullying to prevent retaliation.
Recently, Pergolizzi and her team has been visiting schools around Naples to educate students about the issue and refer them to the Web site: www.projectbully.com.
“We’ve been going to schools and letting them know about the research we’ve done and let the students know they shouldn’t be suffering in silence anymore,” she said.
The Internet may be an easy place for a community of bullies to gang up on a victim, but sites like Project Anti Bully can act as a place for victims to join together, research the problem and voice their frustrations.
The Web site includes live chats with the team, anti-bullying videos and other student artwork. The team also initiated the Hands for Courage campaign, where students paint their hands multiple colors and create artworks as a sign of unity.
Pergolizzi also is hoping to work alongside Debbie Johnston, the mother of Jeffrey, by offering up the Web site as a resource.
“During my project I watched it on the news so I decided to dedicate my first-year abstract and process to Jeffrey Johnston because I felt strongly what his mother was doing,” she said.
The findings from the bullying survey have been presented at conventions of the American Psychological Association in San Diego, Calif., the American Psychiatric Association in Boston, Mass., and the British Psychological Society in Dublin, Ireland.