Online classroom helps victim of school bullies - News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Online classroom helps victim of school bullies

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Karena Leigh will turn 16 this summer, but already, has endured many hardships. As if it wasn't difficult enough dealing with the grief of her father's passing during her freshman year, she also became the target of a bully.

"He told me to kill myself and if i wouldn't, he'd make sure I'd be dead. He said that he would pretty much kidnap me from my house, tie me down to the railroad tracks and video tape me getting hit by a train."

It got so intense that Karena thought about taking her own life. The final straw was when her bully punched her and she did not get any support from the school's administration.

That's when Karena left her school. Now she attends school through her computer. She is enrolled in one of Ohio's nine online public schools, ECOT (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.) Karena's not alone. More and more kids are turning to this kind of learning as a safe haven from bullying.

ECOT Deputy Superintendent and Chief of Staff, Brittny Pierson explains, "Knowing that half of our students are coming for social reasons and anxiety and concerns from school, was really important we focus on how to prevent that and then also help them heal."

Karena says, "It was relieving, just to know that i didn't have to deal with all the rudeness at the school."

Pierson says that at first, students do not have any contact with each other, accept for class discussions. Eventually, parents can opt for a social component called "connect," which is closely monitored. The state also mandates that all online schools teach about cyber bullying and proper online behavior. It's important to note that not only do the victims of bullying take classes online, but bullies who have been removed from schools as well. Also, while most brick and mortar schools are powerless beyond school property, online schools are, in essence, inside a student's home. So Pierson says teachers and staff at ECOT feel an obligation to make every student feel safe and comfortable.

"We're pretty quick to notice if there's any type of negative, potential bullying within the way they're talking to each other and we try to cut it off really early."

Some people might question if going to an online classroom is avoiding the bully problem head-on. But experts say it's not a bad idea to remove the student from a bad situation so that they can focus more on their studies.

Pierson explains, "We have a full counseling staff available to families and so a lot of times what we do is for families is start communicating with the students, see what the issue is, and kind of work with the family on.. does it make sense to go back in a year because that person won't be in your classroom anymore."

Karena says she is going to continue her education online because she feels her life is finally on the right path.

"I can actually cope with depression and I am becoming a happy little thing again!"

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