Hamilton girls teach peers to speak up about bullying

Two sixth grade students in Ancaster put together anti-bullying presenations for each and every student at thier school.
Ariana Figueiredo and Sofia Grimaldi show off thier 'You Can Stop Bullying' bracelets. The Grade 6 students will donate the proceeds from bracelent sales to Anti-Bullying Canada. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

Ariana Figueiredo and Sofia Grimaldi might just be 11-years-old, but they have big voices and a message to share.

"We've been bullied in the past and we want to put a stop to it," Sofia said.

The two Grade 6 students at Ancaster's St. Joachim Catholic Elementary School joined to create a presentation for each and every student at their school, from kindergarten to Grade 8.

Ariana began thinking the project after she saw a video online about a news anchor in the U.S. who was bullied because of her weight. She discussed the video with her older cousin.

"If people do that to her and she's a grown adult, then [my cousin] wonders what it would be like for a kid," she said.

Ariana took her idea of a school presentation to classmate Sofia.

"We talked about when we got bullied," said Sofia, adding both girls have been called names in the past.

Their long-term goal is to help put and end to bullying, but realize it's a big feat. Ariana said in the meantime, they hope to create awareness about the issue at the school.

"Bullying is hard to stop for sure," Sofia said.

The girls' presentation covers what it means to be a bully, different types of bullying (verbal, physical, cyber and social) and tips about what to do if you're a victim.

The information comes from research on the Internet and personal experience, Ariana said.

All week, Ariana and Sofia have been going class to class making their presentation.

"I thought this was the perfect opportunity for our students to use the student voice to build this awareness that you can't just keep quiet about it," said Nadia Ciapanna, the school's principal.

It's already hit home with some students and inspired them to speak up.

"[The presentation] influenced some students to the point that they went home and talked about it at the dinner table," Ciapanna said.

She told the story of a primary student who told his parents there were other boys in his class who were bothering him and making fun of him.

"He was actually afraid to say something before, and it had been going on since September," she said. "Then, he listened to the girls."

That's exactly what Brian Amarelo, Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board social worker, hopes the students will develop: a voice.

As an elementary school student, Amarelo experienced bullying extensively and shared his story at an assembly Friday morning. He said his recesses were spent with his hands tied behind his back as his peers called him names and spat at him.

"Only when I used my voice did the bullying stop," said Amarelo, who has cerebral palsy, and who uses a wheelchair.

Students are receptive to his presentations, Amarelo said, and keep in touch with him via email and Facebook, often sharing their experiences and looking for advice.

Along with the presentation, Ariana and Sofia are selling blue bracelets that read 'You Can Stop Bullying' for $1. The girls are donating the proceeds to Anti-Bullying Canada.

Ariana is proud to say they have raised $227, and counting.

With their big voices, Ariana and Sofia want to inspire their peers to develop big voices, too.

"We hope they can stand up for each other," Sofia said.

"And if something is going wrong, you don't just watch," Ariana said. "You help them out."