Originally published in The Times Union, Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Researcher holds workshop and lecture in Capital Region today

Rachel Simmons had a classmate in third grade who would convince all of Simmons' friends to run away from her.

"I never forgot what that experience was like," said Simmons, a researcher on girl bullying and aggression who is speaking at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall tonight and holding a workshop for school districts. "It always bothered me and haunted me and I could never make sense of it."

The 35-year-old Maryland native, a Vassar College graduate and Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, found that few people wrote about the problem of girl-on-girl bullying. She later published a book "Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls," and just released another, "The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence."

The Women's Fund of the Capital Region decided Simmons' message fit with the nonprofit's goal of focusing on the financial stability and independence of girls and women locally.

A free workshop for school districts will take place this afternoon at the New York State United Teachers headquarters in Latham. Twenty-two local public school districts, including Albany, Bethlehem, Schenectady and Shenendehowa, are participating. Simmon's lecture is at 7 tonight at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.

"It's something we feel that's an immediate problem for girls," said Lorraine D'Aleo, a Women's Fund volunteer who is also a marketing consultant. "It's vital they learn to be collaborative and to work together and that girls have enough self-esteem to take advantage of what the community offers."

Girl bullying became an issue in Schenectady after four high school girls committed suicide last school year, and some families reported the young women had problems with girl bullies. Simmons said she wasn't familiar with the Schenectady incidents but was interested in learning more in anticipation of her presentation today.

Simmons, who lives in Brooklyn, said one of the keys to eradicating girl bullying is instilling confidence in young girls so they do not feel the need to put up with abuse to gain other girls' friendship and approval.

"Girls don't have the skills or permission to deal with relationships in a straight forward way because they're trying to be nice all the time and liked by everyone," Simmons said.