ELYRIA — In elementary school, Brittany Ayala said she was bullied by her peers for her shoes, clothes and hair.
“I don’t really know why. I was just like them,” the petite, browned-haired junior said of her fellow classmates. “But that’s what they thought of me — something was wrong about me to them.”
In her younger years, Brittany said she turned to her best friends to lift her up.
On Friday, Brittany, now 17, was among dozens of students who released colorful balloons strung with messages of hope aimed at inspiring whoever found the notes as they floated back to earth.
The Elyria High School Students against Bullying, a student-led group started last year, organized the balloon release in recent days, getting nine dozen balloons and distributing small slips of paper to more than 500 students. It was sparked by acts of violence in the world as well as the constant lingering moments of bullying in the community.
“These messages are inspirational,” said Cheyenne Jackson, 16. “Every kid should be motivated not to bully, to be better than other kids.”
Cheyenne said ending bullying ultimately starts with the very kids who do it. If you reach the young ones first, they will be the leaders everyone follows, she said.
Bullying is more widespread than some adults and parents may think. The Centers for Disease Control conducted a nationwide survey in 2011 and estimates 20 percent of high school students reported being bullied on school property in the 12 months preceding the survey and an estimated 16 percent of students were bullied electronically in the same time frame.
Brittany said messages against bullying have to be just as strong.
“I just want all the kids to know to keep their head held high,” Brittany said. “Go to your best friend or people you trust because they will help you get through it.”
“Love one another” was the message attached to one balloon. “You are worth something” was another.
“Bullying is not the right thing to do ever,” said 17-year-old Richard Row, a junior in the Lorain County Joint Vocational School’s Hospitality Program. “It’s probably of one of the dumbest things to do.”
Richard said he was once bullied until he learned how to stand up for himself.
“I was picked on a lot,” he said. “Once you show them who’s dominant, they leave you alone.”
Tina Blitz, a ninth-grade world history teacher who advises the student group, said Students against Bullying may have started with three students two years ago, but it has since grown to more than 50 students from all grades.
In the coming weeks, the group plans to screen the movie “Bully,” a 2011 documentary about bullying in U.S. schools. Its stark message is made more poignant as it heavily touches on the suicide deaths of two teens who were bullied in schools.
“We are gaining momentum,” she said. “These are victims of bullying as well as students who feel it is wrong and want to do something. They want to make a change and are starting with their school.”
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.