‘I felt like I didn’t matter:’ Teenage girl goes from being bullied to leading her class

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SANDUSKY - Jayda Jackson appears to be a typical teenager, but the transformation she has undergone is remarkable - and contains lessons for any parent who is concerned that their child is being bullied.

Choking back tears, Jayda says, just a few years ago, she considered suicide.

"I started biting my hands, and not even realizing it," she says, "and one time, I actually tried to take my life because that's all I had left to do."

But now, Jayda is on track to graduate from Sandusky High School next month as the number-one ranked student in her class.

"I feel like I earned it," she says with a big smile, "it feels great."

What changed?

Everything - starting with where the family was living.

Her mother, Sabrina Reel, had moved her family to Bellevue for a fresh start.

But it didn't work out that way for Jayda and her sister - especially not at school.

The girls, who are biracial, encountered problems they say were relentless.

Jayda says they were called the n-word at school, and that school officials had her searched for drugs when there was no evidence suggesting she had any.

She also says officials told her to "fix" her hair - that it had to be worn up, or in a straight perm.

"When I lived in Bellevue," she says, "I felt like I didn't matter, like nobody wanted me there. I felt like I had to do something about it, and it was my fault."

"She had a knife, and she was was going to cut herself," her mother says.

After Jayda suffered an anxiety attack that landed her in the hospital, her mother sought out a professional counselor.

"The lady told me, 'you need to get help; you need to get her out of that school,'" Sabrina Reel says.

So that's what she did - packing up the family and moving to Sandusky, where Jayda has thrived.

"I feel like...coming to Sandusky High School, to the top of the class, I feel like that proves, I'm not a bad person, and my life does matter," Jayda says.

While Jayda's case may be an extreme example, experts say the step her mother took - removing her daughter from the environment where she felt bullied - is something to remember.

And that advice applies to the internet as well.

"Millions and millions of kids...are feeling the effects of being cyber-bullied," says Jesse Weinberger, an internet safety expert.

Weinberger, author of the book "The Boogeyman Exists", is based in Northeast Ohio, but speaks at schools all over the nation about cyber-bullying.

"Parents are starting to realize they don't know enough," she says.

Weinberger says today's parents face a new, daunting challenge that their parents simply didn't have to worry about - that is, monitoring the behavior of children in a cyber world that didn't even exist a generation ago.

And she acknowledges it's a lot of work.

"If you're monitoring, setting limits and consequences for your children's tech behavior, which is...the goal," she says, "and you're not exhausted, you're doing it wrong."

Weinberger says you should not give a child a smartphone until they are 14, and your must limit the time they spend on it.

If you're child is being cyber-bullied, consider taking the phone for awhile - not as a punishment, but as a change.

Just like Jayda's mother moved her family when her girls felt bullied, Weinberger says the internet is just another confusing environment where teens spend time.

"The more you can limit that time," she says, "they better off you will be. Because they are not available to be bullied."

Weinberger says all parents make mistakes, so "I don't think you can beat yourself up over what you've done in the past."

But she stresses that, if you can start today with limiting the raw time your child spends on their smartphone, "you're going to headed towards a better outcome."

Speaking of better outcomes, Jayda is headed to Penn State in the fall to study forensic science.

Her family settled a lawsuit with the Bellevue schools.

After the settlement, the Bellevue school superintendent issued a statement which said in part that the decision to settle was made in order to save additional costs at trial.

The statement went on to say in part that the district promotes a safe and caring environment, where students are strongly encouraged to report all incidents of bullying or discrimination.

Jayda has moved on from the past, and is looking towards her future.

She hopes, after graduation, to become an FBI agent.

That's a dream that may not have seemed even possible just a few short years ago.

Change is possible, change that can make your life better tomorrow than it was yesterday.

Just ask Jayda.

Read more about the bullying epidemic here.

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