Anchorage Kids Use YouTube to Stand Up to Bullying

Kids at an Anchorage Middle School are saying, ‘no’ to bullying with YouTube videos. They created the videos through a program called, ‘Rachel’s Challenge.’ The anti-bullying program was created in memory of a student killed in Columbine Massacre. KSKA’s Daysha Eaton visited Wendler Middle School in East Anchorage to hear how their version of the program is going.

Wendler eighth grader Eunice Kim spoke almost no English when she started school in Anchorage in kindergarten. And she says that made her a target of school bullies

“When I was in elementaries, I really couldn’t talk well so and I would use my hands to sign or if I didn’t know something I was always, I guess in a way I was afraid to say stuff because I know I would pronounce it wrong or something and then kids would like tease me, so I would usually try not to say stuff,” Kim said.

Eunice says her single father was gone to work when she got up for school and didn’t come home until she was asleep. And she did not want to bother her main caretaker, her elderly grandmother with her problems. In the meantime, the teasing continued and led to name-calling, pushing and hitting Eunice says. And more recently to cyber-bullying, including ridiculing posts to Facebook and insulting text messages.

“It’s kind of messed up in a way, because now-a-days kids are suiciding themselves because of one text message. And I think like, even though people say that you need to be strong cause it’s life and more harder things are gonna come, people need to know that one sentence destroy someone and can like turn their whole life around,” Kim said.

Eunice  is now a member of Wendler’s anti-bullying group, ‘Friends of Rachel’. She says, the group is finally giving her a place to talk about the problem and figure out what to do.

“Ever since I joined I was able to like get more confidence and be able to like go into crowds and talk more,” she said.

And to find constructive ways to stand up for herself and others who are bullied she says. Tierra Warren also has a history of being bullied. The eighth grader says she is a target because she’s overweight.

“I was verbally bullied in my classroom. Like they would call people fat. And they would like push you or hit you or something,” Warren said.

Like Eunice, Tierra didn’t want to burden her already stressed out family with her bullying problem. The pushing and hitting was painful, but the words they said often hurt most.

“It made me really sad and it hurt and it made me feel like I had a lot of emotions and I felt like I had to keep it bottled up and, like, I really didn’t have anyone to talk to and stuff, and I had people who were my friends telling me not to listen to them, but when it’s going on every day, it’s hard,” Warren said.

Tierra says as soon as she heard about the Friends of Rachel group, she knew she wanted to join. Stephanie McElroy teaches Spanish at Wendler. She also heads up the anti-bullying group that Eunice and Tierra are part of. The group is named for Rachel Scott, the first student killed in the Columbine Massacre.

“Rachel’s family created the organization to create more of an atmosphere of kindness and compassion throughout schools,” McElroy said.

Twenty-eight-year-old McElroy helped set up the program at Wendler because it has special meaning to her. In 1999, she was a sophomore at a high school near Columbine when the deadliest high school massacre in U.S. history took place there on April 20. Bullying played a central role in the tragedy, and the incident brought it into the national conversation. McElroy hopes the Rachel’s Challenge program will prevent bullying and a tragedy like Columbine from ever happening in Anchorage.

“Middle School and High School can be a really tough time for kids and it can be hard to feel like there’s anyone out there to listen and so for me this group really just hit home. And I wanted to become part of it right away to help kids to have an outlet for what they’re going through,” McElroy said.

The ‘Rachel’s Challenge’ program is based on an essay that Rachel wrote about her how going out of your way to show compassion can start a chain reaction. Students meet weekly to share experiences and work on projects. In effort to start a positive chain reaction at Wendler, Eunice, Tierra and about 50 other kids in the group recently produced a series of YouTube videos where the students speak directly to the camera.

“Even if they says they wouldn’t care, if someone bullied them, I know they would. Everybody deserves respect. But you’ll never be respected until you show it to others. No act of kindness is too small. Start a chain reaction,” a student said in one of the videos.

The videos are airing on local TV stations as public service announcements through June. Several other schools throughout the Anchorage School District are also using the ‘Rachel’s Challenge’ program.

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Daysha Eaton, KMXT - Kodiak
Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.