Teen trio wins anti-bullying contest

Bullying occurs regularly in classrooms and on playgrounds to children and teenagers throughout the world. Cyberbullying on smart phones and social media is more hidden and harder to detect. But for those experiencing bullying, the effects can be devastating or, in the worst-case scenario, lead to self-destruction.

Cyberbullying, specifically, has gained traction in schools everywhere. Recently, a 12-year-old girl in Florida jumped to her death after being bullied through cell phone apps, and a year ago Canadian teen Amanda Todd posted on YouTube about being cyberbullied and then committed suicide. 

To combat bullying and prevent more tragedy from occurring, October has been deemed National Bullying Prevention Month. In Beverly Hills, a local effort was put together: The city’s Human Relations Commission held a contest for students to create and submit anti-bullying videos. The winners in the fourth- through eighth-grade category were former Yeshivat Yavneh students Sara Sacks, Talia Mahboubi and Sarah Yadegari.  

“I think everyone has been in a situation where they’ve felt vulnerable, and it’s usually because of what someone said,” said Yadegari, who now attends Shalhevet. “Everyone knows what bullying is because everyone has gone through it.”

In the video, titled “The Silent Word,” Yadegari stands in the hallway of Yavneh. Her peers take Post-it notes, with words on them like “puny,” “loser” and “freak” and stick them around her on the lockers. A song plays in the background, but the actors are silent. The message of the video, which has nearly 2,000 hits on YouTube, is to “help those who can’t stand on their own … and bring bullying to an end.”

When writing out the Post-its with the hateful words on them, Sacks, now at YULA said, “It felt like we were doing it to ourselves. I had a realization about how awful these words are to say to someone.”

Mahboubi, who also goes to YULA, said, “Since it’s all silent it has a stronger impact. It’s just really powerful because it’s a unique way to approach bullying.” 

All three girls, who are 14 and in their first year of high school, have been friends for nine years. With the help of Lev Stark, executive director of Yavneh, they made the video and released it last May. 

During their time at Yavneh, Mahboubi said that she and her classmates learned about bullying through posters in the hallways and discussions with adults and teachers. “It was instilled in us throughout our whole childhood that it was not right to bully and that you should always stand up for the victim.”

Yadegari echoed similar sentiments. “Everybody takes a part in bullying. It’s really your decision whether you’re going to stand up for the person who is getting bullied or if you’re just going to sit back and watch.”

Jim Latta, a social worker and human services administrator for the Human Relations Commission of Beverly Hills, said that there were 15 entries to the contest, which is in its first year. The submissions were judged based on “creativity, educational value and message effectiveness.” 

The videos, according to the official press release, had to communicate that “everyone plays a role in bullying … the bully, the bullied, the bystander and the person who makes a difference! What’s your take?”

On Oct.15, the girls received a proclamation at Beverly Hills City Hall.

“I feel really proud [about winning] because we really worked hard,” Mahboubi said. “I just feel accomplished. Even if we didn’t win, I would have still felt really good about doing something like this.”

In addition to the proclamation, the “Silent Word” public service announcement is going to be used at various anti-bullying events held by the commission around town. 

According to Stark, it’s already been shown at public and private schools in New York and Los Angeles. “The video has a universal message and an important one, too,” he said. 

“People are watching the video and they’re moved by it,” Yadegari said. “It’s a really great feeling that people like it and enjoy it.”

Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, head of school at YULA Girls High School, said that one day out of the year is devoted to an anti-bullying assembly and discussions. But, the message comes in clearer if students themselves are communicating it. “When parents or teachers give a message, it reaches a certain level of impact. When young people take ownership and make a powerful statement, it goes much deeper,” he said.

With “The Silent Word,” the girls aspire to put an end to bullying and bring attention to how it makes people feel. Sacks said, “I hope it brings an awareness to bullying and it makes an impact to stop the problem.”