Alyssa Wyspianski hadn’t stepped inside École Assiniboine School since she graduated from Grade 5 in 2005.
"Oh my gosh, everything is so tiny. I used to think it was so big," said the 18-year-old Miss Teen Manitoba World last Wednesday.
Wyspianski was back at her alma mater to speak to students about bullying — something else that once loomed large in her life.
About 60 Grade 4 and 5 students sat in the music classroom as Wyspianski shared her own story of being bullied.
Everyone wants to feel like they’re part of a group in school, she told them, and she was a quiet kid who didn’t find a group to hang around with until Grade 8.
"This group, they did drugs. They started to gang up on me. They didn’t like that I had good grades," she said.
The bullying became physical, and eventually the police became involved to make it stop.
"If you’re in a group that’s picking on someone, they may think it’s funny, but is it funny?" she asked.
"No," was the earnest reply from students.
Wyspianski told students there are three kinds of bullying — verbal, physical, and cyber — and people’s differences and insecurities are at the root of it.
With a student volunteer, Wyspianski acted out a skit to demonstrate verbal bullying.
Playing the part of the bully, Wyspianski demanded the girl hand over homework she had failed to do herself.
"Give me my homework. Why you gotta be so stupid?" Wyspianski said to the student, her voice etched with disdain.
After the skit she asked the students what the bullied girl should have done in the situation, and agreed that answers like walking away or telling a teacher or a parent are good ideas.
"(Teachers) are here for you. Your parents are here for you. Keep close with your parents," she said.
Another method, she said, is loudly asking a bully to stop, which helps shine a much-needed light on the act of bullying and gives other students the opportunity to get involved and defend the bullied student.
Principal Stella Hussey, who was at the school during Wyspianski’s elementary years and invited her to speak after reading about her in The Metro, was visibly proud of her former student.
"Alyssa, thank you so much. We’re so proud of you," Hussey said at the end, which drew spontaneous applause from the students.
As students filed out of the classroom several of them gave Wyspianski a hug, sometimes two at a time.
Afterwards Grade 4 student Malory Burnett, who spoke up to share her own personal bullying story, said Wyspianski’s talk resonated for her.
"It’s inspired me to help even more people and it reminded me that I used to be bullied a lot," she said.
Wyspianski said when she was in school the issue of bullying was never talked about.
"It was so hidden," she said.
Hussey said bullying, and wider concepts around respect and responsibility, are "part of the curriculum now. We talk a lot about it."
Wyspianski brought along enough pedestrian reflectors with an anti-bullying logo for the Grade five students. They were courtesy of Community Safety Net, she said, a Winnipeg for-profit organization devoted to child safety which is sponsoring her in the July Miss Teen Canada World competition.
"We’re really sharing the same message . . . it’s great that she’s homegrown and promoting anti-bullying between the kids," said Community Safety Net president Corey DesJarlais.