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Anti-Bullying Advocate Sirdeaner Walker Speaking at CDS

Walker's son killed himself a few years ago after being bullied.

Jake Gersten was in middle school when he first experienced bullying.

Gersten, who is Jewish, said his religion made him a target for other kids' taunts.

"It didn't last for a long time, but I was able to feel how hurtful it is," said Gersten, now 17. "It's difficult to be picked on because of your religion."

Instead of lashing out at his peers, Gersten, a student at Carrollwood Day School, chose a different route: After hearing an anti-bullying speaker last year during a Jewish youth group program in Orlando, he helped organize a presentation at CDS this spring that explained bullying and encouraged students to take a pledge against it.

The presentation also included a short video that detailed the speaker's story. Sirdeaner Walker's son committed suicide three years ago at the age of 11 after experiencing bullying, according to The Huffington Post.

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On Friday, Sept. 21, middle and high school students at CDS will have the chance to hear Walker speak. While school officials say bullying isn't a major issue at CDS, they want Walker's visit to be part of the school's anti-bullying initiative.

"We are looking at two aspects of it (bullying)," said Krista Diamond, advisory program coordinator and high school counselor at CDS, who helped Gersten with the presentation. "How do we help students be resilient and give them skills to handle it? The other piece we find critical is the role of the bystander in bullying."

Gersten said after the youth group program he attended, he thought it was important to share Walker's message - which encourages people to "Stand Together" against bullying - with students.

"With her son dying at 11 years old, she is trying to get everyone to make a change," he said. "If everyone stood up for someone else and decided not to be a bystander, it would help."

How prevalent do you think bullying is in Hillsborough County schools? What suggestions do you have for stopping it? Tell us in the comments.

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