Special thanks to Head Start parents Amy Deanes and Charles Henley for submitting this story on behalf of their daughter (and published author) Atiya and to Atiya’s teacher Mrs. Dorothy Gaston, for listening and inspiring Head Start children.

It did not come as a surprise to Head Start alumnna Atiya Henley’s parents that she would become a published author before the age of 10.

“Atiya has a BIG imagination,” said her mother Amy Deanes. “This isn’t her first book, but it’s the first one that we published. She wrote this book because of no experience of her own, but because of her passion to help others.”

Author photo of Head Start alumna Atiya Henley.

Author photo of Head Start alumna Atiya Henley.

Atyia is a former student of the Institute of Community Services (ICS Head Start) and the author of the “Mean Girls: A Bunch of Bullies,” a powerful story about the impact of hurtful teasing, taunting, and aggressive behavior. Her former teacher, Mrs. Dorothy Gaston, is proud of her learning process and progress.

“During her year at Head Start, Atiya exemplified good social skills with her peers,” said Mrs. Gaston. “Early learning is a must when it comes to helping students gain social skills early in life. It helps them to interact with others and not be a bully to get what you want.”

In her book, Atyia imagines students being pushed around by others and not treated with kindness. She drew on the social skills she developed with Mrs. Gaston to write about how to stop bullying.

“When a child leaves home and gets on the bus ride to school, they should know that this is their second home and nothing bad will happen to them. Bullies are everywhere, but even a bully can be stopped,” said the young author. “I am also working on the second part to show how bullying doesn’t just stop because the bully gets caught, especially when the bully becomes more crafty.”

Bullying can have lasting impacts on everyone involved: the person being bullied; bystanders who witness the bullying; and the person who bullies others. In fact, bullying is considered an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). ACEs are potentially traumatic events that can have negative, lasting effects on a person’s development, the way they interact with others, and how they perform in school. Research has shown that children reporting more ACEs may be more likely to exhibit bullying behavior.

“We always ask our teachers and staff to listen attentively to what our children are saying. If we do not listen, we will miss the message,” said ICS Head Start Executive Director Eloise McClinton. “We are proud to know that one of our own had a vision during this time in her life to pen such a powerful story and to share her experience of bullying with her teacher.”

Parents, caregivers, teachers, and schools all play an important role in preventing and addressing bullying and its harmful effects. Wise before her years, Atyia is an example of how students can also help prevent bullying and trauma at school and contribute to a positive school culture for both fellow students and staff.

Preventing bullying and building positive culture is Atiya’s speciality. Not only is she helping kids to understand bullying, but she is modeling how to treat others with kindness and respect.

Because of Head Start’s programmatic focus on social-emotional health, Head Start children are more prepared to participate in kindergarten classrooms.

“Alum like Atiya makes me so elated to be a Head Start teacher,” said Mrs. Gaston. “I would not have it any other way.”

“We thank ICS Head Start for being a great part of her early childhood education,” added her mother. “Strong and powerful teachers are everywhere, but most certainly in Head Start, where children get the best formal education and the ability to grow into their childhood. Mrs. Gaskin to this day is still her favorite teacher.”

Emily Wagner

Emily was NHSA's director of communications. Previously, she was deputy director of advocacy communications for the American Library Association and worked for many years in communications for Catholic University and The Pew Charitable Trusts. Emily spent her early years as a newspaper reporter.

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