By RANDALL P. LIEBERMAN
Palms West Monthly
Posted July 7, 2012
LOXAHATCHEE — Ashley Coons, 15, of Loxahatchee, seems like your everyday, average teenager.
She just graduated from Western Pines Middle School, works 12-14 hours a week as a bagger at Winn Dixie and is planning to start the medical program at Royal Palm Beach High School next school year.
…I was a victim of bullying when I was 12. Every day I was called ugly, troll face, anorexic, bulimic, loner, twig, and more …
Oh yeah, she also plans to try out for the cheerleading squad and take honors classes.
But unlike the average teenager, Coons has lived through more sorrow than anyone should have to bear.
Looking back now, some might find it hard to believe that Ashley was the victim of persistent, vicious bullying that drove her to attempt to take her life.
…It reached the point to where they turned into threats. They would tell me they were going to kill me. Telling me to go die and hang myself. Leaving me notes saying to watch my back and they were going to push me off the third floor of the building. …
Nowadays, Ashley can openly admit that the bullying led her to cut her arms repeatedly and attempt suicide by hanging herself with a belt.
…I was scared to tell anyone due to the fact that they were saying they were going to kill me. I kept it all bottled up inside. I began to cut myself, repeatedly. I got to the point where I didn’t want to live anymore …
That’s about the time a strange and wonderful thing happened. After being committed for three days at Columbia Medical Children’s Psychiatric Unit in West Palm Beach, Coons came out a new person – determined to stand up for herself – and others.
That brief hospital experience opened her eyes, says Ashley. Many of the other kids in the unit had things happening in their lives far worse than her and she needed to stop letting people push her around.
…It’s now three years later and the scars are healed and I’m a completely different person. I will never let anyone push me to that point again. …
Telling her own story in vivid detail in an essay this past spring earned Coons first place county-wide among female students in the “Do the Write Thing Challenge” – a contest held for middle schoolers by the National Campaign to Stop Violence to help them express their ideas for how to stop youth violence.
For winning the contest, Coons and the winning male student from Boca Raton will represent the county as ambassadors at a national recognition conference in Washington, D.C. to beld July 14-18.
“The goal of the program is to reduce youth violence in schools, at home and in neighborhoods,” said West Palm Beach trial lawyer Bill Bone, chairman of the local steering committee of the Do the Write Thing Challenge.
More than 19,000 students in Palm Beach County participated in this year’s contest, with 210 finalists recognized at a luncheon at the Kravis Center in May. All finalists’ works were published in a program.
To understand the bullying Coons was going through – which rivaled anything seen in “Bully,” the 2011 documentary film following bullied kids all over the United States – one need only read her winning essay.
For Coons, writing about her own experiences has been a little hard in bringing back bad memories, but she thinks it’s important to “let other kids know they are not the only ones going through this sort of thing.”
For Ashley’s dad, Stephen Coons, it is a bit harder to take. He thinks it’s good that Ashley is able to talk and write about her experiences, but he would prefer to just forget about what happened.
“I was shocked when I was called to the school and found out this was going on,” Stephen Coons said. “I had no idea. Ashley is the last person I would have imagined something like this happening to. I am a pilot and away a lot. I guess I was inattentive. This has caused me to pay a lot closer attention to her. But Ashley is strong. She handles it a lot better than I do. It still really bothers me.”
…The thing about teens is that they all want to be accepted into a crowd of friends. If they see them making fun of someone they feel the need to do so too, so they can ‘fit in’ and not seem ‘un-cool.’ …
As to what she’s learned about what causes and what can be done about bullying, Ashley believes teens should not give in to peer pressure to bully others and should use the “pay it forward” method, where one person helps someone, who helps someone else, and so it goes on and on.
Ashley’s dad encourages parents to not take anything for granted with their kids and to communicate with their kids about what is really going on in school.
“Encourage your kids to talk about stuff,” he said. “In today’s times, there can be some seriously harmful situations going on if things are allowed to get out of control.”
As for the local recognition ceremony at the Kravis Center, Ashley said it was an awesome time for her. A documentary video of about 20 minutes was shown, featuring Ashley and the other top five winners.
“Everyone was asking me to meet people and interview me and take my photo,” Ashley said. “It was exciting. I also was happy I got to meet Alex Libby, from the movie “Bully,” who was a special guest.”
In Washington D.C., at the national recognition conference, Ashley and the other ambassadors will have a full schedule of activities, including meeting with their congressmen and participating in discussions about what can be done about teen violence.
Each student gets an all-expenses-paid trip, as does one parent and a school representative. Copies of their essays will be published in a book to be stored forever in the Library of Congress.
…the only way to fit in is if you be yourself, and only then you will fit in with the right crowd. Remember, you are unique and there’s only one of you in the world, and always remember that when someone tells you that you’re ugly or fat or you have braces, those are things you’re going to hear every day and meet people like that for the rest of your lives, and don’t ever let it get to you EVER …
“I’m looking forward to the trip to Washington,” Ashley said. “It should be a lot of fun.”