Students and staff at on Monday laughed and cried during an anti-bullying assembly that touched on issues that can result from bullying, including depression and suicide, teen drinking and driving, abusive relationships and discrimination.
MWAH! (Messages Which are Hopeful!), a group of young performance artists that aims to send a message of anti-bullying to their peers at schools statewide, opened the assembly with a story about Quincee Barnes Miller, a Batavia teen who committed suicide in October 2010, at age 15—six months after her boyfriend, Dylan Wagner, had taken his life.
They then invited Miller's mother, Blythe, to the stage.
Blythe Miller told the audience there were many reasons her daughter committed suicide, including the everyday stresses of being a teenager, the loss of a loved one and bullying.
"My daughter, she loved art, photography, she played softball, she was very outgoing. Her friends would describe her as the person who gave great hugs, gave great advice and listened to them all the time," Miller said.
"My daughter was called ugly. She was nowhere near ugly. She was called very mean names and told to kill herself," she said.
"(With) all of these things pushing her to deeper depression—I ask the question everyday if one of these things could have been taken away would she still be here today?" She cited the quote, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."
"Those words did hurt, and now she's gone forever," she said.
Her message to bullies was to remember to love themselves. "When people bully other people it is to gain control to feel better about themselves," she said. "If you are a bully, you need to remember to love yourself. Surround yourself with people who love you and support you and do things you enjoy doing."
She said today's technology makes it easier than ever for bullying to occur, and told those struggling with bullying, or close to someone struggling, to ask for help.
The MWAH! group performed a mix of serious stories about real people who have fallen victim to bullying and musical performances with messages about helping others and reaching out to those who seem to need support.
Miller, of Batavia, said after the assembly she felt the performances from peers made a strong impression on the students.
There's a “stronger impression on kids when it’s made by their peers,” she said.
Members of MWAH! asked students to think about who their heroes are and why they admire them. A few students in the crowd shared their heroes: a big brother, a dad—the people who've taught them right from wrong by setting an example.
Sue Baldus-Strauss, Monroe Vice Principal, then recognized Monroe students she and other staff had selected as "heroes," including Aiza Aziz, Laura Filas, Chris Slowinski, Austin Tate, Amore Love and Kayla Pekny.
Aiza Aziz, whose father died when she was in third grade, is one of 17 students and nine faculty members at Monroe who has had a family member die recently.
Laura Filas wrote a piece about patriotism and placed second out of entries from all 22 District 200 schools last year. She was accompanied onstage by her brother, Arthur, who is a special needs student who, Baldus-Strauss said has always looked up to his sister.
Chris Slowinski is a student who, “inspires others on a daily basis,” as he doesn’t let his physical limitations slow him down.
Austin Tate is a gymnast who is a conscientious student that works out for four to five hours a day after school and was a state champion last year, Baldus-Strauss said.
Amore Love is a student who “represents those who rise above obstacles everyday,” Baldus-Strauss said, with her respectful, positive attitude and kindness. “She is a hard worker who comes to homework club every night and puts forth her best effort.”
Lastly, Kayla Pekny is a student with Fibromyalgia who, despite constant pain and fatigue, meets each day with a “can-do” attitude and is determined to live the best life she can.
Baldus-Strauss wrote in a District 200 press release, "Our goal with this assembly is to be proactive and help students learn to be careful with their language and ensure that we are teaching them to be respectful. We want to challenge our students to take ownership of their part in creating a safe and positive environment."