Yearbook

Classmates weren’t signing his yearbook, so older students stepped in

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Cassandra Ridder was crushed when her 12-year-old son Brody came home from school last week with just a few signatures in his yearbook – including his own.

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“I hope you will make more friends. – Brody Ridder,” the seventh-grader wrote in his own yearbook, which was signed only by two classmates, two teachers, and himself.

“It broke my heart,” Ridder said.

Brody has been a student at the Academy of Charter Schools in Westminster, Colorado, a K-12 public school, since fifth grade. He had several friends at his previous school, but over the past two years he has struggled socially and been bullied on several occasions, his mother said.

“There are kids who pushed and insulted him,” Ridder said, adding that she decided to change her son’s school before fifth grade to give him more academic support. “Brody has been through a lot.

Although the bullying eased somewhat after raising her concerns with school administrators in February, she could tell “the teasing was still there,” Ridder said.

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When Brody asked his classmates to sign his yearbook on May 24, “they said no to me,” he said in a phone interview with The Washington Post. “It made me sad.”

Ridder was devastated for her child.

“We try to teach kindness in our family, and to see no kindness from the students in her class was appalling to me,” Ridder said.

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She shared a photo of her son’s yearbook note in a private Facebook group for parents at school. She felt angry and helpless, and although she didn’t ask her son’s permission before posting, “I knew he would be totally okay with it,” she said. “Brody always told me he wanted to be part of the solution.”

Her main goal in posting the photo, Ridder explained, was to encourage parents to talk to their kids about bullying. She said she was aware that some parents prefer to keep these matters private, but she thought being upfront about it could help prevent her son and others from being targeted further.

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She hoped people would sympathize with her son’s struggle, but she hadn’t anticipated the outpouring of support that quickly surfaced after his post – especially from the school’s older students.

As dozens of sympathetic comments poured in, several older students — none of whom previously knew Brody — heard about Ridder’s message from their parents. They stood up to show their support.

Joanna Cooper, 17, received a text from her mother with a screenshot of Ridder’s message. Right away, the 11th grader decided, “I’m going to get some people and we’re going to sign his yearbook. No child deserves to feel like this.

Cooper remembers Brody’s age and the intense pressure she felt to fit in. Having signatures in your yearbook wasn’t just a measure of popularity, she recalls, it also simply meant “knowing you have friends.”

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“Signing someone’s yearbook was all the rage,” she said. “People saying no to him and denying him a signature, it just hurt my heart.”

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She contacted several friends and they coordinated to visit Brody’s homeroom together the next day. She didn’t know it at the time, but many other students were preparing the same plan.

When Simone Lightfoot, also an 11th grader at the school, saw Ridder’s post, her first thought was, “I’ll get a few of my friends and we’ll go sign it,” she said.

Lightfoot, 17, could relate to Brody’s plight.

“When I was younger I was bullied a lot like him,” she said. “If I could do one little thing to help this kid feel a little better, I’d be more than willing to do it.”

Maya Gregory, an eighth grader at the school, felt the same way. She too was bullied at Brody’s age.

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“Nobody helped me when I was in this situation,” said 14-year-old Maya. “So I wanted to be there for him.”

She gathered her friends, all of whom were eager to give Brody a boost of confidence. The impromptu initiative spread throughout the school and on May 25, the day after the yearbooks were distributed, a swarm of older students descended on Brody’s sixth-grade classroom, ready to sign their phone book.

Although he felt shy at first, “it made me feel better,” Brody said, adding that he collected more than 100 signatures and messages of support in his yearbook that day. He also received phone numbers and a gift bag.

“Just seeing him light up was really good,” said Cooper, who hopes to lead a yearbook signing next year to make sure it doesn’t happen to another child. “It was a small thing, but it made him so happy.”

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Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, she added, their efforts set a positive example for students in Brody’s class, especially those who initially refused to sign his yearbook.

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As the upperclassmen filled in the pages of Brody’s book, several of his classmates rose from their seats and also signed their names.

“It really showed us that coming in to make his day was already having an impact on people in his class,” Cooper said.

She and her friends didn’t just sign Brody’s yearbook; they also made an effort to get to know him and asked about his hobbies, including chess and fencing. Then they gave him a pep talk, because a lot of them have been in his shoes before, they told him.

“It made me feel like I wasn’t alone,” Brody said.

Maya, for her part, promised Brody that beyond signing his yearbook, she would continue to be there for him. She gave him her phone number and they’ve already met for ice cream with a few of her friends. They bonded from their shared experience with bullies, and she passed on words of wisdom: “Whoever’s trying to bring you down is already below you,” she told Brody.

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The friendliness of the students resonated with school administrators, who said the return to in-person classes from remote learning has caused more conflict and bullying.

“Many students struggle with peer relationships and social skills,” said Brent Reckman, chief executive of the Academy of Charter Schools. “It’s up to us to figure out how to help children and families, but it’s a challenge facing all schools right now.”

“It can be very difficult to be a teenager,” he continued. “I was really impressed with how our students stepped up when they saw a peer in need.”

Ridder echoed his sentiment. Although she never predicted that her candid message would yield such a meaningful outcome for her son, she is so grateful.

“It made me feel like there’s still hope,” she said. “Not just for Brody, but for humanity.”

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