Orlando Sentinel Shares Jaclyn Stapp’s Anti-Bullying Message

“Umatilla beauty queen’s mission: stop bullying”


UMATILLA — When she was young and attending the same school, Jaclyn Nesheiwat Stapp told Umatilla Elementary School kids that she was teased by other students about being thin, looking like a boy, having lots of hair and wearing different clothes. Umatilla beauty queen’s mission: stop bullying

“I wanted to be Miss Universe,” Stapp said. “I was teased and taunted for looking different and dressing different. It was hard and sad. I kept it to myself.”

Stapp, who grew up to win numerous beauty pageants, said in recent years she had noticed more news reports about bullying incidents. That was a reason she wrote “Wacky Jacky: The True Story of an Unlikely Beauty Queen,” which has an anti-bullying message.

“Right now the bullying issue is so near and dear in my heart,” said Stapp, who has school-aged kids. “Things that go on in schools today really hit me hard. I wanted to help make a difference.”

‘OK to be different’

Florida lawmakers have taken steps to address the issue.

An anti-bullying law defines bullying as “systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress on one or more students and may involve: teasing, social exclusion, threat, intimidation, stalking, physical violence, theft, sexual, religious, or racial harassment, public humiliation or destruction of property.”

In Lake schools during 2008-09, 13 bullying incidents were reported in elementary schools; 21 in middle schools, nine of which were reported to law enforcement; and 14 in high schools, nine of them reported to law enforcement, according to state Department of Education records. Under the category of threats and intimidations, eight incidents were reported in elementary schools, 59 in middle schools and 35 in high schools. All were reported to law enforcement.

One of the messages Stapp shared with students: “It’s OK to be different. It makes you special.” She also told them to let adults know if they’re being picked on or bullied because that is unacceptable behavior.

‘I love to give hugs’

Umatilla Elementary Principal Debra Rogers said bullying isn’t an issue at the school, but she is glad Stapp shared her book and thoughts. She has known the author since she was a little girl and isn’t surprised to have a “successful person in our roots.”

“Sometimes not everything is perfect in your life,” she said, referring to Stapp’s elementary-school years. “You keep going and doing and do the best you can.”

When it came time for questions, fifth-grader Ryker Graden, 11, got up, waited in line and proceeded to ask for a hug. Stapp obliged.

“It was cool,” Ryker said, blushing. He liked “that she wrote about her school days.” He plans to read the library copy of the book.

Stapp said, “That was the highlight of the whole program. It’s the first time a child asked me for that. I love to give hugs. He was very courageous to do that. I loved his self-confidence.”

‘She’s really pretty’

Fourth-grader Stormy Jones, 10, said when Stapp started reading the book, she noticed similarities between them, especially because they both like softball.

“She’s really pretty,” Stormy said. “I look up to her.”

Stapp plans on taking her message to other elementary schools and will continue with a series of “Wacky Jacky” children’s books. To buy the book, go to wackyjackybooks.com or amazon.com.

A portion of the proceeds from the book will go Stapp’s national outreach foundation, CHARM (Children Are Magical), a nonprofit that aims to heighten awareness of children’s issues and enrich the lives of underprivileged youths by providing them the tools for a fulfilling future.

‘Believe in yourself’

Stapp was touched by having a day named in her honor.

“It’s very humbling,” she said. “It reminds me of my roots and where I came from. It contributed to who I am today. Umatilla is such a neat town — everyone knows everyone. It prepared me for the real world. I was choked up.”

Peter Tarby, acting mayor and City Council president, said Stapp was deserving, adding her book “speaks to children. They can become whoever they want to be. Always have dream. It’s a good message.”

Stapp left the students with these final words of advice: “Always believe in yourself. Be proud of who you are, and never ever give up.”

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One response to “Orlando Sentinel Shares Jaclyn Stapp’s Anti-Bullying Message”

  1. Ryker Graden

    Thank you so much for my hug it was really nice of you but now all the kids at school are asking for hugs!!:\

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