The Speak Up, Stand Up team. From left: Regina Akerson (age 17, a junior), Nicole Biscotti (teacher), Nicolas Contreras (age 17, a senior), Roque Deffenbaugh (age 17, a senior), Isabel Rubio (age 16, a sophomore), Joslyn Perez (age 17, a junior), Grace Martinez (age 16, a sophomore), Luz Sandoval (age 17, a junior), Sebastian Munoz (age 17, a junior), and Alexis Coronado (age 15, a sophomore).

The Speak Up, Stand Up team. From left: Regina Akerson (age 17, a junior), Nicole Biscotti (teacher), Nicolas Contreras (age 17, a senior), Roque Deffenbaugh (age 17, a senior), Isabel Rubio (age 16, a sophomore), Joslyn Perez (age 17, a junior), Grace Martinez (age 16, a sophomore), Luz Sandoval (age 17, a junior), Sebastian Munoz (age 17, a junior), and Alexis Coronado (age 15, a sophomore).

Westview High School students came together to discuss bullying as part of the Maricopa County-based “Speak Up, Stand Up and Save a Life” movement.

Forty-eight students attended a recent “Speak Up, Stand Up and Save a Life” conference in Phoenix. The goal is to encourage students to “Speak Up, Stand Up and Save a Life” in their schools.

“The kids came back very inspired,” said Nicole Biscotti, a teacher and the leader of the student ambassadors.

“As the other tragedy in Florida happened, we became more aware of the fact that this is not just an issue to prevent suicide, but to also prevent backlash that comes from mental health issues that could be potentially a danger to everyone around that person in trouble.”

The movement aims to tackle real issues locally and nationally. This is especially important to the Westview community; Biscotti said a student committed suicide two years ago.

“I saw first-hand how that affected the entire campus,” she said. “There was just sadness all around campus for a while. It takes the students a long time to process something like that as well, to see someone who they knew and interacted with die like that. 

“I am hoping that programs like this will create more awareness of our actions and understanding of what students are going through.”

The movement and its conferences encourage attendees to discuss how best to communicate with trusted adults, such as parents, teachers, school personnel or police officers, when they witness fellow students struggling with bullying, cyberbullying, drug addiction or depression, or witness threats against students.

Westview Principal Dr. John Renouard said when he hears about bullying, he lets student ambassadors help.

“As a new principal, I really wanted to jump on this opportunity to make campus a better place,” Renouard said. “Students are more apt to listen to their peers than adults. It’s better to help these teens now, otherwise their psychological wounds will keep festering and they will eventually be volatile and unpredictable. By attending to their needs and feelings early on, we can help mitigate more school shootings.”

Biscotti said she’s shocked the types of issues affecting students. She added she believes they are related to social media, which wasn’t around when she was younger.

“It’s a lot for a 15- or 16-year-old to handle all of the negativity that can be used by social media to bully, especially when their self-esteem is developing,” Biscotti said.

Westview sophomore Grace Martinez, the student spokeswoman for “Speak Up, Stand Up,” said she participated so she could share her story about being bullied. She wanted other teens to know they’re not alone. Bullying doesn’t define a person, either.

“I know that sounds very repetitive and cliché, but it’s true,” she said. “More people care about you than you think, and it will get better. This isn’t the end for you.”

For more information, visit speakupstandupsavealife.com