Ayla’s Army goes to war against school bullying

Girl says she was jumped by 6 classmates, punched by boy

A 13-year-old Hahnville girl is so fed up with the bullying she has endured for almost half of her life that she has used a Facebook page filled with video testimonials to spread awareness.

The Facebook page, Ayla’s Army, was started after R.K. Smith student Ayla Nicholas was involved in an altercation at school two weeks ago. Ayla says that when a boy harassed her at school, punching her in the stomach, back and face, it was the last straw.

“He had constantly been punching on my back in the fifth period class after the teacher had told him to ‘stop hitting her.’ After he disobeyed her and continued to do it, I turned around and smacked him for hitting me on the back and he still continued,” Ayla said.

A day later, Ayla said the attacks grew more vicious.

“He punched me in my stomach and then in first period he punched my arm, then my neck  and then my face. After he punched me in my face I couldn’t hit back because that hurt too much,” she said.

This alleged attack came only a few months after Ayla says she was beaten by six classmates in the R.K. Smith gym. The attack was so severe that Ayla says she blacked out after being kicked by the girls.

She woke up alone in the bleachers, but didn’t report the incident to school officials. When she arrived home, Ayla showed signs of a concussion and her family asked her what happened. After being told about the beating, the family met with R.K. Smith school officials, who sent the six girls to ADAPT even though they had the option of calling police.

ADAPT is an alternative program used to deal with behavioral issues.

However,  Ayla was given the same punishment for calling one of her attackers a name while she was on the ground being kicked. That infuriated Ayla’s mother, Ella Nicholas, who called the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office. Though the Sheriff’s Office would have dealt with the matter, Ayla refused to press charges believing that doing so would only make things worse.

Since starting school at R.K. Smith two years ago, Ayla’s mother says she has had to take her daughter to the emergency room twice for injuries received due to school bullying.

“This has been going on since kindergarten,” Nicholas said. “She’s been in the hospital and had a concussion. She has had mulch shoved in her hand and we’ve had to take her to the hospital to have it taken out.”

The family had gone through several meetings with school administrators since Ayla was young, but the outcome has always been the same.

“The meetings were pointless because they said promises, but those promises were never kept. It just got worse after that so really all of the meetings were always pointless,” Ayla said.

Reaching out for help has not been easy for Ayla because her bullies step up their efforts when she tells on them.

“What is the point in going to school when I can’t even learn because these kids are around me and are saying stuff? What is the point in trying to stand up or report it when if I do they just trace it back to me and make it worse?” Ayla said. “One of the school rules is be happy and enjoy life, how am I supposed to be happy and enjoy my life when I am being bullied?”

For the family, the bullying has taken its toll.

“We’ve lived it for nine years. It affects us all, it doesn’t just affect her, it affects everyone around her,” Nicholas said.

After Ayla was punched by the boy last month, the family decided to fight back.

“I literally could not sleep over that weekend, my gut was hurting to see how it affected her. Saturday morning I got up and thought, what can I do?” Nicholas said.

With the help of a friend, Nicholas created the Facebook page Ayla’s Army, in which they shared Ayla’s story. The site also includes videos where Ayla describes the bullying she has had to endure. Within a few hours, hundreds of people signed up in support.

“I never expected what happened to happen. I was going to surprise her and maybe get a couple of people that she could talk to and could confide in that had been there,” Nicholas said. “When I looked and saw it was 400 people, I showed Ayla and she was like ‘oh my God, oh my God.’ She was so happy to have someone to reach out to.”

Since the Facebook page went live, thousands of people have become fans. Ayla has also been contacted by several radio stations that want to feature her story.

In fact, Ayla’s story inspired “CSI” actress and anti-bullying advocate Hayley Gripp, who called Ayla to offer support.

Despite the attention brought by speaking out against bullying, Ayla’s family said it was never their intention to put the focus on Ayla as a victim of bullying, but to get help that they weren’t receiving from the school system.

“That isn’t what this is about, we aren’t trying to make a name for Ayla,” Nicholas said.  “We want help. We want this to stop. We want her to be able to go to school and be happy, be protected and get an education, and she is not able to do that.”

Since the Facebook page has become so popular, Nicholas said she has received both a letter and a call from school administrators vowing to correct the situation.

The letter to the Nicholas family from AJ Pethe, executive director of secondary schools, addresses what steps the school system is taking in Ayla’s case, including an investigation and the review of school system policies that deal with bullying.

“We are reviewing all of our current policies and procedures related to your concerns and will look to make appropriate enhancements to strengthen the components of reporting and accountability. This will include examining the OLWEUS program,” Pethe wrote.

The OLWEUS program implements changes school-wide that include establishing a bully prevention committee, training staff in how to deal with bullying and involving parents of both the bullies and bullied when a situation arises.

However, right now OLWEUS pilot programs are only in place at R.J. Vial Elementary, J.B. Martin Middle School, Norco Elementary and Ethel Schoeffner Elementary, not R.K. Smith.In an email, Pethe said the OLWEUS program is still being assessed and has not yet been implemented at every school.

“Data is being collected to determine its effectiveness,” he wrote.

Pethe added that the school district will work towards providing an environment in which Ayla can succeed.

“We are on the same team in wanting Ayla to be successful in school, and we want to engage productively with you to develop a positive path forward for her,” he wrote to the family.

Nicholas said she is happy that the school district is working with her family, but is skeptical due to previous meetings she has had with school officials.

“As long as they follow through with their promises I think we can resolve this, but I have been promised things before that they were going to stop incidents and they haven’t. It is a daily occurrence,” Nicholas said.

Nicholas said the issue is not just about bullying, but her daughter’s quality of life.

“I just want my child to be safe in school and to be happy. She deserves to have a happy life,” Nicholas said.

Although there is a possibility that speaking out publicly may bring her unwanted attention at the beginning of the next school year, Ayla feels that her supporters should have a larger goal than just protecting her.

“I want people to know what is happening with bullying and that there are so many kids because of it who kill themselves. It is not right that kids who are going through it should have to feel that is the only way to get out of it,” Ayla said. “They should be able to feel safe and feel like they can get an education without having to be hurt or called names at school. So I want to be their voice and help them.”


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