Sirdeaner Lynn Walker Dr. Charisse Nixon

Sirdeaner Lynn Walker Dr. Charisse Nixon

On Friday, October 22, 2010, approximately 120 educators, youth service providers and members of law enforcement gathered at the Crowne Plaza in Pittsfield to participate in a bullying prevention and intervention conference sponsored by the Berkshire District Attorney's Office. The conference, Leaving a Legacy of Hope: Understanding and Responding to Peer Aggression, was part of the Office's ongoing Bullying Prevention Initiative which provides training, education and resources on bullying, cyberbullying and harassment, and internet safety to students in grades K - 12 as well as staff, parents and community members.

After opening remarks by District Attorney David F. Capeless, attendees heard a heartfelt keynote address by Sirdeaner Lynn Walker, whose 11 year old son Carol Walker Hoover took his own life last year after suffering relentless bullying.

In memory of Carl, Sirdeaner travels the country advocating for comprehensive anti-bullying programs in schools. She has made it her life mission to make sure that no other young person is denied a lifetime of opportunity. Sirdeaner's tragic story provided attendees with a real look at the grief and loss caused by bullying and clearly demonstrated the critical need to change social norms around these behaviors.

The educational component of the conference was provided by Dr. Charisse Nixon, assistant professor of developmental psychology at Penn State Erie.

Dr. Nixon applies her research expertise and experience in psychology and teaching to shed light on the developmental repercussions of relational aggression. In her presentation Dr. Nixon discussed findings of the recent youth voice research project conducted along with educator and author Stan Davis. The project surveyed 13,177 students ages 5 - 12 at 32 schools across the country to give young people a voice in defining the effectiveness of different interventions intended to reduce negative peer behaviors and the harmful impact that often accompanies those behaviors.

The findings revealed students' perspectives on what helps in bullying situations. Across all grade levels students reported that the top three most effective responses from adults included listening to them, giving them advice, and checking in with them.

The survey results also indicated that students who felt connected at school, close to adults at school and respected at school experienced less trauma when victimized by bullying than those students who felt no connection to school or the adults in the building.

The training provided the opportunity for attendees to participate in group discussions about current attitudes and beliefs around bullying and offered strategies and tools to apply pro-social approaches that will support and protect our students.