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Bullying, sexual orientation and prejudice are a few topics Virginia Beach high school students will learn more about this week.
Sixteen students from Princess Anne, Tallwood and Bayside high schools will participate in an annual leadership retreat from Aug. 1 through Aug. 5, sponsored by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities’ (VCIC). The retreat, at W. E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center in Wirtz, Va., will host about 60 students from Virginia Beach, Richmond, Hampton, Henrico County and Williamsburg.
“If we’re really intentional about wanting to reduce bias, we need to be aware of the beginning of it as opposed to just the physical violence,” Jessica Hawthorne, director of programs for VCIC, said in a phone interview.
Bullying is not an isolated issue. In a 2015 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5,171 Virginia high school students reported being bullied on school property during the previous year.
Nor is bullying limited to children. VCIC offers workshops and retreats designed to help businesses address prejudice and create more inclusive environments.
The student retreat, now in its 23rd year, includes workshops and small group discussions on prejudice, gender, body image and disabilities. A big part of preventing bullying is making everyone feel included, Hawthorne said.
The talks focus on helping students understand how and when ideas are formed that influence behavior that seems second nature to them, like deciding who to sit with in the cafeteria and which neighborhoods to avoid, Hawthorne said.
The goal is to have students take action and initiate changes in their schools when they return. An example of a change one student made was a “mix it up” day, where students had to sit next to at least one person they hadn’t met before.
If communities are aware of conditioning that leads to harmful verbal and physical actions, violence can be prevented, Hawthorne said.
Separately, the City of Norfolk is looking into ways to combat bullying and violence. The city held a forum at Titustown Community Center on Saturday, July 30 to address anti-bullying, gang awareness and gun-violence prevention. Participants included public safety, city and state employees, according to the City’s website. Another workshop is slated for Sept. 10 at Lambert’s Point Community Center, 1251 W. 42nd Street, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.