Lindhurst student spreads anti-bullying message
WHAT: Anti-bullying event.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Monday.
WHERE: Yuba Gardens Intermediate School, 1964 11th Ave., Olivehurst.
At 5-foot-11 and now an athlete and accomplished inventor, Tharon Trujillo doesn't take much guff.
But the Lindhurst High School junior says that in elementary and middle school, he got teased relentlessly for a stutter and a weight problem.
"I was a little Oompa Loompa back then," he said. "Everyone would make fun of me and mock me every day and I would go home and cry."
Trujillo now makes the rounds at local schools as part of an anti-bullying campaign backed by the REACH Coalition — a youth leadership initiative that works through Friday Night Live — and a national organization called Generation ON.
"Kids are scared to speak out," he said, after relating a sad tale of a former classmate at Wheatland High School, which he used to a attend.
The girl committed suicide after having been tormented for more than two years for her sexual orientation.
"She always had a smile on her face," he said of his friend, whose death shocked him. "I'm still confused about it."
On Monday, his campaign takes him to Yuba Gardens Intermediate School, where Mixed Martial Arts star Daniel Puder is scheduled to appear in support of the anti-bullying message.
The 6 p.m. event is open to the public.
Much of Trujillo's message is geared toward parents, who school district officials say need to take a much more active role in monitoring students' social-media sites and texting activity for signs of aggression or distress.
"Kids are pretty brutal," said Jolie Carreon, coordinator of student discipline and attendance for Marysville Joint Unified School District. "A lot of time they don't realize that their behavior is bullying behavior."
And with young people now having all-day access to social media technology, bullies now have all-day access to their victims.
"Kids used to be able to go home and feel comfortable and safe," Carreon said. "Now, you can't really get away from it anywhere."
What once might have been hurtful words shouted on the playground "now is shared with 500 friends on Facebook," she said. "That's too overwhelming."
Carreon spoke Thursday at a community meeting held at Duke's Diner in Olivehurst to help deliver the message.
"Parents want to perceive their kid as a cool kid," she said.
Kids who get bullied often respond by keeping their torment to themselves.
"It's embarrassing for them," Carreon said.
And those tasked with keeping kids safe during the day at school often are expected to know what is going on between students after school.
"A lot of it is put on us, but it can't just be on the school," Carreon said.
When the truth finally comes out, often it is too late.
Trujillo said his own problems with bullies went away when he took one of the primary culprits into the principal's office and outed the problem.
"I was really scared. He was kind of a popular kid at school," Trujillo said.
But the tactic worked.
It didn't hurt that he had a growth spurt his freshman year that transformed his physique, and worked hard to tame his speech impediment.
And when he won the Igor Sikorsky Youth Innovator Award last year for having developed ideas for a new unmanned helicopter model, he slipped into the spotlight easily.
"People don't bully me anymore," he said.
CONTACT Nancy Pasternack at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4781. Find her on Facebook at /ADnpasternack or on Twitter at @ADnpasternack.