Wantage Resident Named Top NJ HS Youth Volunteer for Anti-Bullying Program

Erin Pedrini
Web Production Assistant

Ashley Craig at an anti-bullying event. Photo courtesy of Ashley Craig.
“I’m not any different than anyone else. Anyone can do this, you just have to be open and honest,” 18-year-old Wantage resident Ashley Craig said about the program she created. Craig was chosen as the top high school youth volunteer in New Jersey for the 2014 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards for creating a program called Students Against Being Bullied (SABB).

SABB is a four-phase anti-bullying initiative that Craig started at her high school, High Point Regional High School in Sussex, in 2011. Craig started planning the program after two serious events that had an impact on her when she was 14.

The first event that caused Craig to start brainstorming the program occurred when she was in the seventh grade and she was being badly bullied by five boys. Craig said that the boys knocked her over intentionally in the hallway one day and she reported the incident to a gym teacher at her school. After reporting what happened to the faculty member, the boys bullied her for four and a half months, calling her names, following her and pushing her, she said.

“It was absolutely terrifying. That started the process of me thinking about how to get something to help other kids because I had my parents by my side since day one and I had friends that were there to give me that extra support and that helping hand. I had the school on my side, who helped me report everything. They were there to talk to me, to do whatever they needed to do to make me comfortable and they were the ones that ultimately helped me move all of my classes so I could get away from these boys and my situation would end. Those were the driving forces that got me through my experiences and my thought was if that got me through it, maybe I could try and give some other students some of those things they might not already have,” Craig said.

The second factor that caused Craig to take the initiative to start SABB occurred when Craig was in the eighth grade. A friend of hers told Craig that he was going to end his life because he felt alone, he felt like he didn’t fit in and he didn’t trust the teachers enough to talk to them about what was going on, Craig said. She said that she told a guidance counselor what her friend had told her and he was taken out of school to receive help.

“When he came back, he was very angry with me and it took him weeks to talk to me. When he finally did, he gave me a hug and said, ‘Ashley you saved my life,’ and that was the moment that SABB was officially born,” Craig said.

The first phase of SABB is “student involvement.” Craig said that this phase is the most important phase of the program and it consists of three parts: text lines, bi-monthly after-school activity meetings and safe areas. The text lines are phone lines that are monitored by the vice principal or the disciplinarian that students can text if they are being bullied, witness bullying, feel threatened or know of a fight that may be occurring. The text lines are confidential and once a message is received, the vice principal or disciplinarian acts on the report. The bi-monthly meetings are open to anyone to discuss bullying incidents or anything along those lines. Craig runs the meetings, but she said that there is always a teacher or counselor there in case something comes up that she cannot handle. At the meetings, planning is done for awareness-raising events for the community to get the word about the anti-bullying movement and to promote community unity. Safe areas are places such as the cafeteria, library and guidance office, which are supervised by faculty members. Students can go to these locations in the morning before school starts, if they feel unsafe.

Ashley Craig with other volunteers. Photo courtesy of Ashley Craig.
Phase two of the program is “spreading awareness.” This phase consists of Craig getting the word out about SABB, implementing a peer shadowing program and using bully awareness and intervention strategies. Craig has been spreading awareness by attending conferences and speaking about her program. Craig said she has done 120 anti-bullying presentations for her program. The peer shadowing aspects of this phase pairs a students who feels threatened walking from each class with an another student in the same classes, so the student who feels threatened is not alone in the hallways. The bully awareness and intervention strategies consist of the administration scaling an offender by what they have done and then based on the scale, the offender is then required to go to meetings with counselors, the disciplinarian and their parents to figure out why the student is bullying, to make the parents aware of what their child is doing and to try to break the chain of violence.

The third phase of the program is “parent involvement.” For this phase, Craig goes out and gives presentations to parents. She said that one out of four kids are bullied and parents need to know the signs of how to figure out if their child is a bully or is a victim of bullying.

The final phase, phase four, is “community outreach.” Craig said that she wants to make the program a “grassroots movement.” She said that she tries to make this an uplifting experience that everyone can get involved in and get the message out there as a united front in Sussex County, and even further.

Craig said that she has presented this program at conferences in states such as Ohio, North Carolina, California and Alabama. She said that she gets a lot of emails and calls about how people can start SABB in their schools and communities. Craig said that she provides those who ask with the information and works with them as a consultant to get them through the process.

“I thought the program was going to stay in Sussex County and I was happy with that. Then I started getting phone calls. My first big break was the National Organization for Victim Assistance conference in Ohio, where I was a workshop presenter in front of 90 people. I also presented at the National Hate Crime Symposium in Alabama and it was amazing and it just snowballed. I was not thinking this large when I started SABB. I have been absolutely blessed,” said Craig.

Craig was nominated by her high school principal for the 2014 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. When Craig found out she won, she said, “It was like cloud nine. I never thought I was going to get it honestly. I wanted it but there are so many words to explain how excited I am and was when I got the letter. I still can’t believe it. It is absolutely fantastic.”

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards started in 1995 and more than 100,000 young volunteers have been honored at local, state and national levels. This award represents the United States’ largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer services. A middle school student and a high school student are awarded from every state each year and all of the 100 winners go on a trip to Washington, D.C. together, where the top 10 national winners are awarded for their achievements.

Ashley Craig giving a SABB presentation. Photo courtesy of Ashley Craig.
Craig said that winning the award means a lot to her, but it’s not the reason for her work. “What really means the most to me is that no one can artificially make someone smile. Being able to reach out and say that I’m here and it’s going to be OK and having that person look at you and say, ‘Thanks for being here,’ and having them walk away smiling, that’s the best feeling in the world. That’s the reason why I do it. I’d be happy to do that for the rest of my life, just being there because that’s all it takes for some kids,” Craig said.

Craig said that she hopes to make SABB her full-time job. She said that right now the program is mostly implemented in high schools, but she has done presentations for preschool through high school. She said that the goal is to have a program for all grade levels. She is even working on creating a college program.

“It’s been a dream come true honestly. I have learned that no dream is too big. I’m hoping that one day, I can have more people pitching the program and traveling and spreading the word about the program. I’m hoping that one day it’s not just me, it’s a bunch of other people,” said Craig.