TEXARKANA, Texas (KTAL/KMSS) – More than 70 percent of kids say they’ve witnessed bullying in their school, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Some Texarkana elementary school students said they experienced that bullying first-hand and are now receiving their education from an online public school.
“I like literature,” said Gabrielle Mills, 11. “I’m really only good at that subject.”
Fifth-grader Gabrielle Mills loves getting lost in a good book.
“’Anne of Green Gables’, of course I like that,” said Gabrielle. “And ‘Little House on the Prairie’ is a good one, too.”
These are some of the fictional stories that took her away from the realities of her school day where kids said cruel things.
“They would make fun of how big I was,” said Gabrielle. “‘Cause I’m a tall person and I weigh a lot. I know that.”
Her younger sister Gracelyn faced her own struggles.
“I would feel so left out in school I would just cry,” said Gracelyn Mills, 10.
The girls tried to cope as best they could, dreading the next school day.
“When I would get home, I would tell my mom what would have happened,” said Gabrielle. “And then I would literally get my phone and just stay on it until I had to go to bed, because I didn’t want to do anything else.”
“I felt like she wasn’t really my sister,” said Gracelyn. “I felt like she was just this person that was staying in my house.”
Their mom knew something had to change.
“When a child first comes to you about being bullied, I think at first you kind of play it off,” said Gretchen Mills. “But, then you see everything about them shift.”
Gretchen says she watched her girls go from kids excited for school each day, to having daily struggles to drop them off each morning.
“As a parent, I just have to make sure that my children are safe,” said Gretchen. “Whether it’s emotionally, physically, mentally, I have to make sure that they’re safe.”
Psychologist Dr. Betty Feir said she’s treated many patients who’ve been bullied, and said it has a huge impact on self-esteem.
“When you’ve been bullied as a child, it can have very long-lasting, far-reaching effects on you as a person,” said Dr. Feir.
After researching options, the Mills family decided to bring the classroom to the computer, transferring the girls from a brick-and-mortar public school to an online public school: Texas Online Preparatory School.
The girls received their elementary education virtually this past school year, and their mom noticed the difference in their personalities.
“They are a lot more confident,” said Gretchen. “In public school, ‘I can’t wear that, my legs are fat.’ This, that. Now, they really don’t care.”
Positive changes that have fourth-grader Gracelyn encouraging anyone else who may be struggling to stay positive themselves.
“I would tell them it’s gonna get better,” said Gracelyn. “Even though it seems like it’s never gonna get better, it’s always gonna get better.”
You can find resources to help identify, prevent and stop bullying here: StopBullying.gov.