Project Profile: The Ophelia Project

February 27, 2009

When I first started teaching, bullying was evident everywhere I turned. In the Bronx one of our students stopped coming to school because a threat made by a classmate left her afraid to walk to school alone. Later on, while teaching in Brazil, I saw another form of aggression. The 7th grade students were using their newly acquired blogging skills to verbally gang up on one girl in their class.

The Ophelia Project, started in Pennsylvania in 1997 by high school and university teaching veteran Susan Wellman, serves as a catalyst for creating safe social environments in middle and high schools by addressing relational and other forms of aggression through innovative strategies, tools, and solutions. According to the organization’s annual report, the Ophelia Project has “touched the lives of more than 13,000 children and adults through 91 programs and 54 trainings and empowered 683 active volunteers in their quest to transform the world they live in.” In 2007 the Ophelia Project earned the AAUW Eleanor Roosevelt Fund Award for its long-term influence on the lives of girls and women.

Jane Finkenbine, a 2007–08 Community Action Grantee, got involved in the Ophelia Project in 2005 after watching her fifth-grade daughter become a victim of relational aggression, which is aggression that negatively affects one’s relationships with others or feelings of social acceptance. After meeting the organization’s founder, Jane returned to Racine, Wisconsin, with “knowledge of how to help not only my daughter but all children and adults affected by relational aggression.”

The Ophelia Project in Southeast Wisconsin offers the program “How Kids Hurt, How Kids Help” to schools and community youth groups. According to Jane, “This workshop not only teaches children the importance of being an empowered bystander but offers strategies for intervening safely when bullying and/or relational aggression happen.” In addition, the Ophelia Project of Southeast Wisconsin offers night programs for parents, in-service workshops for teachers, and programs such as book clubs and Ophelia Clubs, which provide positive female role models for middle and high school girls.

To make the program work, the Ophelia Project of Southeast Wisconsin has created meaningful partnerships with various schools and AAUW chapters, as well as the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin. In 2007–08 the Ophelia Project was awarded an AAUW Community Action Grant, which Jane says allowed the organization to expand its reach outside the Racine area, train more mentors, and reach more children affected by relational aggression and bullying. An AAUW member, Jane often looks to AAUW to find dedicated and reliable volunteers.

In southeast Wisconsin the program works with 23 schools, providing workshops for teachers, students, or parents. One principal called the ongoing classroom lesson the “most impactful program” she has had in her building. Perhaps, though, the real proof comes from seeing a change in student behavior.

Jane relayed one story she heard of a middle school girl who came to the school administrator’s office to “calm down,” claiming that other girls were “messing with” her. The student said she just kept repeating to herself, “What would Jasmine do?” Jasmine was the college student who conducted the Ophelia training at the school.

While the organization has had a positive effect in southeast Wisconsin, it is still looking ahead to the future. The Ophelia Project of Southeast Wisconsin is working to obtain 501c3 status, move into a permanent office, and expand after-school programming. Currently Jane and her team are developing workshops on cyber bullying and planning a 5K run/walk fundraising event.

Even if there is not an Ophelia Project in your community, there are still steps you can take to raise awareness about bullying: host a book club, book an Ophelia speaker, or contact Jane directly through the Ophelia website:

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1 Comment

  1. Susan Seeds says:

    I teach literature in a middle school in Lakewood, Ohio. I am very interested in obtaining funding for The Ophelia Project workshop to train our teachers in identifying bullying and having the tools to deal with it. Bullying is a huge problem in middle school, especially with girls. If you know of any grants that would be available to our school: Lakewood Catholic Academy, I would be grateful. We have 640 students in grades K-8. Thank you for any help that you can provide.

    Susan Seeds

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