'Just seeing him light up, it felt really good,' said one teen. 'It was a small thing, but it made him so happy.'
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on June 3, 2022
Cassandra Ridder was heartbroken when her son Brody came home from school last week with only a handful of signatures in his yearbook—one of which was his own. "Hope you make some more friends. — Brody Ridder," the 12-year-old had written. A devastated Ridder saw that only two other classmates and two teachers had signed the yearbook apart from her rising seventh grader. According to The Washington Post, Brody has been a student at the Academy of Charter Schools in Westminster, Colorado, since fifth grade. Although he had several friends at his previous school, his mother revealed that he has struggled socially and has been repeatedly bullied over the past two years.
"There [are] kids that have pushed him and called him names," said Ridder, who explained that she switched her son's school before fifth grade to give him more academic support. "Brody has been through a lot." Although the bullying somewhat subsided after she addressed the issue with school administrators in February, the concerned mother says she could tell "the teasing was still there." She realized the true extent of what Brody was going through when he told her what happened when he asked his classmates to sign his yearbook on May 24.
The teenagers marched into Brody Ridder's class and filled the sixth grader's yearbook with messages of friendship and support. https://t.co/NAbQIBvTat— WPXI (@WPXI) June 3, 2022
"They told me no," the young boy recounted. "It made me sad." Ridder was crushed that her child was facing such hostility from his peers. "We try to teach kindness in our family, and not seeing any kindness from students in his class was appalling to me," she said. Feeling angry and helpless, Ridder posted a photo of her son's yearbook note in a private Facebook group for parents at the school. Although she didn't ask Brody before posting, she says she "knew he would be completely okay with it. Brody has always told me he wants to be part of the solution."
snip* It is the time of year when kids are signing each other’s yearbooks. But what happens when no one wants to sign yours?— Henry Jacobs (@HJ4Indie) May 28, 2022
That happened to Brody Ridder, a sixth grader at The Academy of Charter Schools in Westminster.https://t.co/tCDWYkLD1A
Ridder explained that her primary aim behind sharing the photo was to encourage fellow parents to speak to their children about bullying. While she's aware some might prefer to keep such matters private, Ridder shared that she decided to be forthright about it as she believed it might help prevent her son and others from being targeted further. While she'd hoped people would sympathize with her son's struggle, she had no idea that the post would spark an outpouring of support—especially from the older students at the school who heard about Ridder's post from their parents.
Seventeen-year-old Joanna Cooper revealed that when she received a text message from her mother with a screenshot of Ridder's post, she decided right away that she would "get people and we're going to sign his yearbook" because "no kid deserves to feel like that." The 11th grader still remembers the intense pressure she felt to fit in when she was Brody's age. Having signatures in your yearbook wasn't only a measure of popularity, she recalled, but also meant simply "knowing that you have friends." "Signing someone's yearbook was all the rage," Cooper said. "That people would tell him no and deny him a signature, it just hurt my heart."
Cooper contacted several of her friends and they made a plan to visit Brody's homeroom class together the following day. However, what she didn't know at the time was that many other students were hatching the same plan. One of them was Simone Lightfoot—also an 11th grader at the school—who revealed that she 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." Maya Gregory, an eighth grader at the school, felt the same. "No one helped me when I was in that situation," the 14-year-old revealed. "So I wanted to be there for him."
The impromptu initiative quickly spread throughout the school, and on May 25—the day after the yearbooks were distributed—a swarm of older students filed into Brody's sixth-grade classroom to sign his yearbook. Speaking of the incredible show of support from his seniors, Brody said that although he felt shy at first, "it made me feel better." The youngster collected more than 100 signatures and messages of support in his yearbook that day and also got some phone numbers and a gift bag. "Just seeing him light up, it felt really good," said Cooper, who now plans to spearhead a schoolwide yearbook signing next year to ensure that this doesn't happen to another child. "It was a small thing, but it made him so happy."
The older students' efforts also set a positive example for students in Brody's class. Several of his classmates got up from their seats and signed their names in his yearbook as upperclassmen filled the pages. "It really showed us that coming in to make his day was already having an impact on the people in his class," Cooper said. The students' kindness touched school administrators, who explained that the transition from remote learning back to in-person classes has caused more conflicts and bullying. "A lot of students are struggling with peer relationships and social skills," said Brent Reckman, chief executive at the Academy of Charter Schools. "It's up to us to figure out how to help kids and families with it, but it's a challenge faced by all schools right now. It can be really tough to be a teenager. I was really impressed with how our students stepped up when they saw a peer in need."