Conway beauty queen puts focus on anti-bullying

By Tammy Keith Originally Published January 27, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated January 25, 2013 at 10:46 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Aubrey Reed, 12, of Conway, the reigning Miss Arkansas Junior High, developed her own anti-bullying program in addition to using one from the national pageant. During her lunch period and study hall, she often reads the book Sticks, Stones and Stumped! to elementary-school students. She also asks them to sign an anti-bullying pledge.

Aubrey Elizabeth Reed, a Conway 12-year-old, makes straight A’s, wins beauty pageants, plays sports and dances competitively.

She sounds almost perfect, which makes her a target for bullying.

That’s exactly what happened, and because of her personal experience, her platform as Miss Arkansas Junior High is anti-bullying.

She uses a national anti-bullying program and created one of her own called Bullying 101, which she uses in the Conway School District.

“I really hope my program puts a stop to some of those things,” she said.

Aubrey, a seventh-grader at Ruth Doyle Middle School, is the daughter of former Miss Arkansas Paula Montgomery Swindle.

Aubrey’s family moved to Conway a few years ago from Cabot, and she quickly got involved.

This is a girl who loves school.

“If I could go all day, every day, I would,” Aubrey said, laughing.

That all changed when the bullying started.

“I ended up not wanting to go to school,” she said.

“It happened mainly last year, when I was in sixth grade, and it was a very intense end of the year,” Aubrey said.

A group of girls “made up code names and sirens, or sounds. They made a noise, and everyone knew not to talk to me,” she said.

“I absolutely did not expect it. It came from some of my best friends — I thought they were,” she said. “It was definitely a tough time for me.

“I was heartbroken.”

The bullying went on for four or five months, Aubrey said.

“I guess it was kind of my fault for it to happen so long. I let it go on and on because I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “It just kept happening and happening.

“It got to where I couldn’t fix it on my own, so we had to bring it to my principal’s attention.”

Aubrey said Debi Avra, principal of Ruth Doyle Middle School, met with the girls and Aubrey individually.

“They said they really didn’t have a reason for it,” Aubrey said.

Aubrey’s bullying experience, combined with the fact that becoming Miss Arkansas is one of her “biggest goals,” made her look at the issue in a different light.

She decided she could make a difference and be an encouragement for other children who have been bullied.

The pageant with which she is affiliated has an anti-bullying program for kindergartners through second-graders called The Crown C.A.R.E.S. (Creates a Respectful Environment in Schools).

On her lunch period and during study hall, Aubrey reads the book Sticks, Stones and Stumped! by Deb Landry to elementary-school students.

She has spoken to more than 900 students in Conway and Cabot, and her goal is 2,500.

Aubrey has also created her own anti-bullying program for older students, third- through seventh-graders.

She is just beginning to expand the program into the upper grades.

Aubrey said she did a lot of research to create her program.

“I looked up different statistics on bullying,” she said. “I was very shocked to find out that bullying in elementary school was worse than in college and high school.”

When she talks to students, she hears a lot of stories about bullying.

“Every age I’ve talked to, about half of the grade, they all raise their hands, and they want to tell me their story and whether they made the right choice by telling their teacher or telling the person to stop,” Aubrey said.

“It’s definitely heart-wrenching that they had the same experience.”

Aubrey said she tells the children that “they’re not a tattletale” if they go to an adult about the bullying.

Aubrey said she asks students to sign pledges “saying they’re going to be fair, honest and respectful to everyone in their schools,” and that they will stand up against bullying.

It’s not just the tough guy beating up a kid for his lunch money, as Aubrey explains to them: “It’s the sweet little girl who rides roller skates everywhere” who gets bullied, too.

And, Aubrey said, it seems to her that girls are worse bullies than boys.

“Girls have more of a jealousy factor,” she said, and they seem to hold grudges longer.

Her mother, who was Miss Arkansas 1995, said Aubrey’s bullying brought up painful memories.

“I was bullied, as well, which is why I was crushed when I recognized a change in [Aubrey’s] behavior and desire to attend school,” Swindle said.

“With me, it started because I was legally blind and wore thick Coke-bottle glasses,” Swindle said. “I would get off the school bus and dump the spitwads from the hood of my coat out before I got down to my house so my mom wouldn’t see.”

It got worse for the future pageant winner. She was physically assaulted in ninth grade by a student who was paid $2 and a pack of cigarettes to attack her — giving her a concussion and other injuries.

She knew the signs when bullying happened to Aubrey, whom she calls Aub.

“It was heartbreaking to see her hurting,” Swindle said. “One thing about Aub is she loves with her whole heart, so when she is your friend, you have one for life if you want one.”

Swindle said she made mistakes as a mother in dealing with the bullying situation.

“It is so difficult to not turn into momma bear when you see your child hurting,” she said.

Although some parents might defend the bullying by saying, “That’s just how kids act,” Swindle doesn’t buy it.

“I don’t believe that being cruel to others is acceptable behavior anytime, but especially not in the very place where our children spend eight hours a day,” she said.

Swindle said Aubrey’s experience with bullying changed the entire family, which includes Aubrey’s stepfather, Michael Swindle. Aubrey also has a brother, David Austin Reed, 7, and a stepbrother, Asher Swindle, almost 20 months.

“Our family leaned on our faith in God and grew closer in that faith,” Swindle said. “I have seen such a dramatic change in Aubrey’s faith walk through her experience. She continues to amaze me with her ability to forgive and have a positive spin on things.”

Aubrey said she became a more secure person because of the experience.

“I thought that since [the girls] were treating me like that, I must have done something wrong, or I must have said something wrong,” Aubrey said.

“I finally realized, ‘I’ve been really nice to them.’ I definitely felt insecure for a while, but I started getting stable with myself again, and I’m definitely more secure now.”

Aubrey takes Advanced Placement classes, participates in competitive dance, has been on the volleyball team and plans to try out soon for the school track team.

And her relationship with the girls who bullied her?

“It’s all good now. We’re friends,” she said.

In addition to her goal of becoming Miss Arkansas — which she emphasized that her mother has not pressured her to do — her ultimate goal is to become a school principal.

“I love kids, and I love school, and that will be just another reason to continue being in school,” Aubrey said.

“I want to be a principal and enforce anti-bullying rules.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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