Student Voice emerging as an option to stop bullying

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Updated: 5/16/2014 4:40 pm
RENO, Nev. ( & KRNV) -- There's a new idea emerging when it comes to dealing with bullying in our schools. It's called Student Voice, and many are hoping is the magic bullet.

For several years, News 4 has been covering the issue of bullying. It seems no matter how many posters are made or assemblies are given, the problem persists. How do we get scared, intimidated kids to report bullying to get help?

One local family who wants to take a strategy called Student Voice to the extreme, by sharing a painful, personal story of bullying directly with other students.

She sang a song with the lyrics "I am beautiful in every single way. Words can't bring me down." at a school talent show at Cold Springs Middle School. Just two days after the performance, 14-year-old Ella Pena was checked into West Hills Hospital for treatment of clinical depression.

"We went to get an evaluation and they said 'She's not safe to go home' and I was absolutely shocked," said Ella's mother, Lisa.

As Ella and her mom look back at what they might have done differently to stop the progression of the bullying and ensuing depression, they want Ella's story to help other students. "We are hoping that we're going to be able to get some sort of program," said Lisa. "Where Ella and other kids who have had tramatic situations are able to go out and talk to children from their perspective, what they experienced."

Lisa Pena said it was tough to get any information out of her daughter about what was wrong. For months before her hospitalization, there were signs, but Ella remained silent. "Grades were dropping. She was spending a lot of time in her bedroom, music had changed, lots of differences in sleeping patterns. We went to Ella and said, 'What the heck?'"

A friend of the family finally told Ella's secret. She was being bullied, and it had been happening for years. "It started out with a little name calling: 'You're fat, you're ugly, you're too tall.' Then it got to a point where it was like, 'You should go kill yourself, you're worthless, no one would miss you.'"

Ella said the bullying started in the fifth grade, and got progressively worse until the eighth grade. She said she didn't want to upset her parents and thought she could ignore it, but she noticed it was getting hard to get out of bed in the morning.

"Like that feeling when you are stuck in a rut, and you know what's going to happen, and how it's going to play out," said Ella. "You know that you have to get up, and go through it. It's like, 'I don't want to.'"

The Washoe County School District is currently using a strategy called Student Voice, to get input on what's working and what's not on a number of different issues that affect students. Coordinator Trish Shaffer said she is excited about plans to incorporate students in teaching other victims, bullies, and bystanders about ways to get help. But she is very cautious about having it be a good experience for the speaker and the audience.

"If we did have other students speak out in that large format, we want to be careful that they feel protected and safe," said Shaffer. "That they are messaging how they can report, and some strategies they can use to overcome."

Shaffer agrees that peers often give the most powerful message. "When its someone who has walked a mile in your shoes, someone you can relate to at an authentic level, that's what we know has the most impact."

The Penas want to be part of the process that makes an impact. It's going to take some time and trained facilitators to happen, but they are confident her voice will be heard.
"I thought it was a good idea," said Ella. "I want to help people. I don't want people to end up like I did."

News 4 will keep you updated on the progress of the Student Voice strategy as it gets underway.
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