Soledad High School students come together to pledge against bullying. Photo Courtesy of Monterey County Office of Education.
By Alex Villanueva
When I became a Junior at Soledad High School in 2011, I realized two things: time was running out, and I needed to do something to distinguish myself for college. Therefore, in order to stand out, I looked to personal experience: bullying. Little did I know that what started as a silver lining for my college application would change my life, and make me recognize that extending one’s own moral determination would be just as fulfilling as getting a higher education.
As I experienced puberty, my physical appearance and uncoordinated movements made me prone to ridicule; whether it be friendly or cruel. However, instead of letting the taunts make me angry with the world, I used it to motivate myself.
One afternoon in a leadership class I shared with my younger brother, Robert, we watched a film titled Bully. By the end, we were both taken aback by how close it hit to our own experiences, and we then decided what on-campus effort we were going to start. An anti-bullying coalition.
Student-Led Anti-Bullying Club
As we got our ideas off the ground in Winter of 2011, we found that an emphasis on cyberbullying would be advantageous, since most bullying incidents we noticed happened online. With our mission set, we did the paperwork for administrative approval to form Cyber Bully Support, or CBS.
We spread the word of our existence in announcements and through peers, but nothing came of it; most people believed that bullying no longer existed. It was only once we recruited our advisor, Brandon Swift, that we were able to gain momentum. Unfortunately, having Swift didn’t bring the committed masses we were looking for, but I was able to look to another resource, my friends.
My best friends, Ivan Perez and Daisy Dorantes, were my first choices for who would make up my cabinet. Ivan became treasurer, Daisy the secretary, while I served as president and Robert served as vice president. We took on about 12 members as our official club, all composed of close friends we trusted.
Our first year was mostly a prototype phase since we took most actions through trial and error. By the time we had established ourselves as a group, our next big step was to understand where we should focus our efforts; thus, we constructed a survey. Since this was our first questionnaire, however, it ended up being filled with overly complex questions that didn’t bring responses.
Luck graced us when a performing arts school agreed to shoot an educational film with us. With the opportunity in tow, Robert and I collaborated on a script revolving around how an internet rumor could spread and destroy an innocent girl’s life. After Swift made edits, we delivered the script to our partners, and shooting began.
Joining with Not In Our School
Upon completion, our other advisors, Ms. Chavez and Ms. Aldaco, made the fateful decision to contact the Not in Our School (NIOS) movement to collaborate and help with outreach. It didn’t take too long for the director, Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas, to contact and guide us. Before we knew it, the Soledad CBS transformed into the Soledad Not in Our School (NIOS) installation.
As my last year of high school began in Fall of 2012, it dawned on me that it wouldn’t take long for it to end as quickly as it came. Therefore, I had to recognize who would take the reins after I graduated. Robert, my little brother, was of course the solution. Though I had a ready successor, I still needed to ensure to end with improved effort.
We made a simpler survey for the bookends of the year to track our progress. In addition, we made more of an effort to interact with our peers, doing so by making class presentations and school-wide assemblies, where we had students take a “Stand-Up-To-Bullying” pledge in front of the school. We also made our presence more prominent by presenting our educational film in classes, speaking at city council meetings every Tuesday night, and making a visit to our neighboring middle school.
By year’s close, not only had we established a positive reputation, but we had also made a blueprint for later classes to adopt. It has been a little over three years at the time I write this, and the Soledad NIOS is not just my proudest accomplishment, but is still running based off of the plans Robert, Ivan, Daisy, and my original team developed.
My first year at the University of California, Berkeley was also my first break from the organization, and I used it to familiarize myself with my surroundings and get acclimated. By the time it ended in May of 2014, I realized how my Junior year dilemma had returned and I needed to cultivate experience.
Come Fall of 2014, I was blessed with the fortune that was an internship from the main NIOS office in Oakland. Becki Cohn-Vargas presented me with the opportunity to work in the fields of media and public relations, as well as speak publicly on matters of bullying to audiences varying from teachers to students. Thus, beginning the current phase of my life.
Looking back at the last four years, it has been quite the journey. The fact that I’ve been able to explore my passions while making a difference has truly been some kind of miracle. in all honesty. It’s funny, for me, to look back to when I was just a burgeoning freshman, unsure of himself in every way and not sure if he had any purpose in this life, to a second-year college student confident in his ability as a student, a leader, and a human being.
Alex Villanueva is an intern for Not In Our School