Ariel Escobar, 13, has single handedly led a student-wide initiative to launch her own anti-bullying campaign as of last week. The local eighth-grader gave her first presentation at Creekside Middle School amongst hundreds of students Wednesday, Oct. 9, during a special awareness assembly in the middle school’s gymnasium.
Escobar said that she has been a victim of verbal abuse since the third-grade, and has even thought about suicide as a coping strategy. Her most recent bullying experience involves cyberbullying from a former best friend, she said as of Thursday afternoon. Since then, Escobar refuses to go on social networking sites, such as Facebook, due to slanderous comments.
Unfortunately, Escobar isn’t alone in enduring these exploits. Escobar said bullying has become a universal staple in many schools and believes that the only way to stop it is to lead by example. In order to even the playing field, the local student has created her own pledge utilizing Instagram to prevent bullying, found at #arielsantibullyingmovement.
“I noticed many of my friends went through the same tough times I did,” said Escobar Thursday, Oct. 10. “I realized, we needed each other. And I knew leading an anti-bullying assembly would help me work through my problems.”
Escobar held three assemblies last week—one for each grade level at Creekside Middle School. Despite the touchy subject, Escobar said she didn’t fret when it came to speaking in person, due to her social skills as a class leader, Girl Scout Troop member, and eighth-grade president. But she did, however, say she was nervous when she first addressed her own eighth-grade class, which housed many of the bullies she was forced to reckon with.
“Everyone knew exactly who I was talking about,” said Escobar. “But it really bridged the gap. Literally, everyone in my entire class clapped for me. After the assembly, (the bullies) came up to me and told me how they had no idea I was affected by their words. They apologized and said they’d be more careful about what they were saying.”
Over the course of a few days, principals, staff, teachers, parents, students and former bullies praised Escobar’s efforts. Assistant Principal Toney Henry presented Escobar with a bouquet of flowers and a certificate of achievement for her personal success. Escobar’s role was pivotal in shaping Creekside Middle School’s attitude within the week.
“One kid told me he was going to say something really mean to someone else, and then he said that he remembered my assembly and didn’t say anything to them,” said Escobar. “People started posting about how I stopped them from hurting other people. I’ve had kids come up to me all day—kids I’m not familiar with—to say, ‘Thank you.’”
The support from onlookers has been overwhelmingly pleasant, as some have admitted that her speech has brought them to tears.
Escobar’s friend and fellow student, Sabrina McManus, 13, said she was thankful for the assembly.
“I felt like I just wanted to give up,” said McManus while discussing her personal bullies. “(Escobar) really helped me through it.”
Escobar said her anti-bullying campaign will not stop at Creekside, as she already plans to host more assemblies at neighboring schools, particularly Apricot Valley Elementary, where her siblings attend, before reaching out to Newman and Grayson.
“I plan to do everything I can to make people realize that what they say hurts,” said Escobar. “If they don’t speak English, I’ll get a translator! No matter what language you speak, words can hurt.”
In the future, Escobar says she plans to make the movement worldwide, and has already acquired 40 followers from her hashtag within one day of the assembly.
“Our community needs to come together,” said Escobar. “No matter how strong someone may seem on the outside, you don’t know what is going on on the inside. As long as we can stop it here, I’d feel that I’ve been successful. I’m really excited for where this takes me.”
N Contact Brooke Borba at 892-6187, ext. 24, or firstname.lastname@example.org.