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Teen's Suicide Inspires Anti-Bullying Campaign For Area Schools

The suicide of a 16-year-old Alamo Heights ISD student in January has prompted San Antonio schools to look for ways they can give students the self-esteem they need to survive bullying. David Molak took his life after other students taunted him through social media. This week, schools throughout San Antonio invited a motivational youth speaker to talk to their students about bullying, kindness, and tolerance.

In the auditorium at Northside ISD’s Rawlinson Middle School, Gabe Salazar looks out at a crowd of sixth and seventh graders sitting closely together on bleachers and in long lines on the wooden gym floor.  He takes the mic, talks fast, and frequently tosses in Spanish words, which causes the kids to burst into peals of laughter. Salazar paces back and forth and jokes constantly as he delivers his message.

"Guys are strong. Girls are powerful," Salazar says. "Let me say it again, guys are strong! Girls are powerful!" he repeats to the cheering crowd of students.

Salazar tells the kids there are five types of bullying: physical, verbal, emotional, exclusion, and cyber. He says physical bullying is more common with guys.

"Where guys walk up to each other—and you tell me if they still do this—“What’s up fool? What’s up fool? What’s up fool?” Salazar says. And the kids cheer and reply, "Yeah." "Do they do this? Do they walk around each other like they’re doing the ...?"

The kids start laughing.

Salazar says, with girls it’s a whole different ballgame.

"Do you know you can bully somebody without saying a word to another person? Now this is more common with young ladies," he says. "Young ladies will look at someone and they’ll do this look. They say a picture paints a thousand words. Man, that girl bully look? It says millions of words. And it’s so subtle and it’s so sneaky. And the teacher will say, 'Sweetheart. I saw you bullying her. Why don’t you stop?'" “I didn’t even say nothing. All I did was open my eyes.”

Some of the students at Rawlinson know that look. They may know what it’s like to be pushed around. Or like David Molak, mocked on social media. Twenty-five percent of American students are bullied each year and that can leave long lasting scars.  Seventh grader Kaylea wants to be an aerospace engineer or an orthopedic surgeon. When she was in the third grade, she was bullied and the girl bullying her had been her friend.

She remembers how she felt.

"She exclude me from some things, and she would tell me not to do things I wanted to do, really. She was kind of more bossy than usual.  I don’t know what happened to her," Kaylea says.

Kaylea told her teacher and the bullying stopped. But Kaylea says she lost her friend.

"I just felt in between of sad and happy," she says.

Sixth grader Carter says he’s never been bullied himself, but his older brother was.

"He used to have really bad teeth. And they would call him bucktooth because his teeth were really bad," he says.

Carter’s brother was made fun of for two years between third and fifth grades.

"I felt really bad, and I really wanted to beat them up, but I knew I couldn’t because I was two grades behind them, so I was smaller than them," he says.

Do you feel like beating people up is a good solution?

"No," Carter replies. "But I was just so filled with anger, that was the only thing that came to my mind."

Of course parents worry about their children being bullied too. Debra Tope is the mother of a sixth grade girl who goes to Rawlinson. She says she worries that she won’t know if her daughter becomes a target.

"My daughter does not have a cell phone as a sixth grader, and she’s probably one of the few who doesn’t, because I worry about being able to see everything’s that’s going on. I think it’s very prevalent. And I do worry about it as a parent," Tope says.

Kaylea says she learned some things from Salazar, and that she and her friends talked about bullying after the assembly. She says if she was bullied she would stand up for herself, or go to a teacher or a parent. She says Salazar’s message made her feel better.

At the end of Salazar’s talk, he looked at the kids, and said, “You are beautiful. Clap if you believe that today.” And the kids clapped.