When 13-year-old Sara McCann was in the fifth grade her mom knew something was wrong at school.
"It's not a shove you in the locker kind of bully," said mother Renee McCaa. "It's a, 'Hey, do this and if you're not going to do this we're going to just discard you.'"
"It's usually like a big group of girls," said Sara, fighting back tears. "And I feel left out sometimes, like at lunch, whenever there's nowhere to sit and no one will go sit with me."
For the last three years, Sara said a group of popular girls at school made it very clear she was not good enough to join them.
"Whenever they would leave me out, I would feel like a nobody," she said. "I mean, they wouldn't say that to me, but it was what was implied I guess."
Sara's mother said this type of insidious alliance amongst students perceived to be cool caused harmful effects on her daughter.
"It's like me putting pressure on myself saying, 'Why am I not good enough to sit with them?'" Sara said.
According to the teen, it was covert, damaging and soul crushing - a type of mind manipulation that may not be easily detected by teachers.
"In the classroom, for example, if we have a project or something and the teacher will tell us to get in groups and it will be like a group of four and I'll usually be like the fifth one," she said. "I don't have any where to go."
When asked if she wished the teacher would break the students into groups as opposed to having them do it themselves, Sara choked up.
"Yes," she said. "So that I would have somewhere to go."
As Sara talked, her mother also fought back tears.
"You feel that pain," Renee said. "You do. You feel it for your own child. You kind of inject your own memories in there. You want to swoop in and save the day."
Renee did not talk to the principal about Sara's issues. Instead, she sought counseling for both her and her daughter.
"I could have taken her out of the school and created a very big disadvantage for her because I'm taking the opportunity away from her to learn how to navigate these pressures in life," she said.
Through counseling, Sara learned how to set boundaries, how to navigate the pressures and she discovered a new passion in horseback riding that has given her a new-found confidence.
"It's not those girls that I want to feel wanted by," she said. "It's the people that I love that I want to feel wanted by."