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PACER's Peer Advocacy Project - Episode 23

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8:18 minPACER's Peer Advocacy Project - Episode 23

PACER's Peer Advocacy Project - Episode 23

As we continue to talk about advocacy, we are highlighting PACER’s Peer Advocacy Project! In this week’s episode, Julie Hertzog, director of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, shares the story of her son David and how he influenced her work in creating this great program that can be used to promote advocacy for peers at school.

  • Author: NBPC
  • Duration: 8:18 minutes
  • Date Posted: 2/14/2018

Series: PACERTalks About Bullying - Season 1

We are so excited to be launching our brand new series, PACERTalks About Bullying, where each week we will be talking about all things bullying. In our first episode, we’ll share more about PACER Center and what we do.


Hey everyone. Welcome back to PACER talks about bullying. I'm Bailey. Thanks for joining us.

This month, we're talking all about advocacy, advocacy for self and advocacy for others. In this week's video, we are so excited to have Julie Hertzog with us, the Director of PCAER's National Bullying Prevention Center, as she shares her story about her son David and how he influenced and inspired her work on the peer advocacy program. Today, we're at the school where it all got started where David first started school when he was three years old. And we're excited to give you a sneak peak. Come on in.

Hi everyone. I'm Julie Hertzog. And I'm really excited to be here with Bailey today and especially at the Watertown-Mayer Primary School which is where it all began for my son David. And I'm going to be talking a little bit about not only my own personal journey and my work in the National Bullying Prevention Center and how David inspired that but also explain a little bit about the peer advocacy project. So let's get started.

So you talked a lot about the impact that your son David has had on your work. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Well, David is absolutely one of my favorite things to talk about. And he has always been the inspiration for my work at PACER Center. And just a little bit of history, when David was born, he was born with down syndrome, but he was also born with a lot of significant medical issues including a heart -- where he had open-heart surgeries. And he ended up with a tracheotomy and was on a ventilator, had a feeding tube, a pacemaker. So he was a young man who literally fought for his life those first three years. And when he started school, especially when he was going into kindergarten, I was looking at David and thinking wow, you know, here's a little boy who -- he walks a little different. He talks a little bit different and was really worried about what his school experience was going to be like because I thought for somebody who's fought so hard to live that to have him go into school and to have anybody make fun of him or not be nice to him would absolutely break my heart. And so David was really inspired -- thinking through like what we could do to build safe and supportive cultures not only for kids -- not only for David but for all kids or anybody who's vulnerable to being bullied or being teased or hurt for being different.

So what was your idea behind the peer advocacy program and, kind of, why did you think that this model of advocacy would be helpful for bullying?

David had an incredible experience not only with early education but in his elementary school but I knew when he was going into middle school that things would change, you know, because there is going to classes, there's -- it's just not as -- the environment is not as safe for all kids. And so there was a couple things that I thought about. And I knew that David had some allies. I knew that there were some kids that really liked him. And I also knew that David, being nonverbal, I would never know how his school day was going. And the third thing I realized was also that kids know about bullying long before any adults do. And so from that was born the peer advocacy project in which we at first designated four students who were good friends with David and really liked him and we taught them what they could do if they saw David in a bullying situation. And also just to help him be -- to feel included in the school environment. And that program was literally so successful for not only the four kids involved but they started telling some friends. And right away it was expanded upon for all the kids who were in special education in the middle school. And the really great outcome of that program was that it really became more about not so much about protecting kids from bullying but that was absolutely part of it but the bigger thing was just how much kids were included. And, you know, I remember going to school that first day of school in sixth grade and all the kids in special education were in the bleachers and they were all sitting together in one spot. And by the end of the school year, all the kids in special education were sitting throughout the entire bleachers, interacting with all the kids, and it was -- really became a powerful statement of inclusion. But more so than that, I think the students who were -- all the students who were involved grew from it. And I still hear stories today about kids who will come up to me and say, you know, Julie, because of the peer advocacy program, I now want to be a special-education teacher. Or, you know, the kids with disabilities would come up and say Julie, because of that program, I really had a great middle school experience and people were so nice to me and I always had somebody to sit by with at lunch. And so the peer advocacy program it's just -- it's an amazing opportunity for everyone for inclusion, for learning how to be an advocate for others, and also teaches everybody self advocacy skills, too, about what you can do to look out for others and to really make sure that everybody feels like they have a place that they -- where they can belong regardless of disability or any differences.

So if a school was considering bringing a peer advocacy program into their school, what would you tell them?

Peer advocacy is really -- it's a win-win.

Mommy. Mommy.

And I'd like you to meet David. David, can you look at the camera?


So this is David.

So if a school wanted to bring in a peer advocacy program, what would you tell them?

A peer advocacy program at a school is a win-win for everybody involved because it brings students with and without disabilities together in a way that wouldn't otherwise happen. And so if you put some structure behind that, it's amazing that kids really, I think, so often want to interact with students with disabilities, just don't have the opportunity to do so. And so by making that purposeful connection, it really impacts lives in such a positive way. And for David, I know that it really helped with his self-esteem, with having somebody to talk to in the hallway, to give high fives to, to smile to, and it really brought out the best in him. And I think it also really brings out the -- all the best in the people involved in that they understand that impact of just connecting with somebody else can have not only for themselves or for the other person but also on the entire school environment. And so a wonderful, creative way to make sure that everybody feels included and everybody belongs.

And thanks again to Julie for sharing this amazing story and all about how the peer advocacy program got started. Well, this wraps up this week's episode. Join us right back here next week as we actually talk with some of the peer advocates at Watertown-Mayor Middle School. We'll see you right back here next week. And remember, together we can help create a world without bullying. See you.