Sydney DeBerry endured constant bullying, name-calling, fighting and harassment while she attended private school – until she saw a commercial for Ohio’s Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT).
During her transition from traditional brick-and-mortar school to online school, Sydney transformed from “the quiet kid who kept to herself” into a “social butterfly.” The outgoing personality and individual sense of style she developed earned her an anchor position on ECOTtv, where she became recognized across the state.
Sydney has become an inspiration to multitudes of people who have heard her story or witnessed her transformation. We caught up with the 2014 ECOT graduate to hear how online school turned this shy, bullied girl into a strong, confident woman.
This is Sydney’s ECOT story, in her own words:
A background of brick-and-mortar bullying
“I went to public school for kindergarten through fourth grade. If kids say something mean, you cry, you get over it, and you move on. But things can get worse as you get older. Kids get meaner. Words start to cut deeper.
I started private school in fifth grade, and oh, I hated it. It was terrible. Every other day, there was a fight, a physical altercation, in the locker room. Girls were always fighting, and I never wanted to be involved in that, so I would separate myself and go to the restroom to get ready for gym class. I was the quiet kid who kept to herself. I didn’t even have one friend to call my own or confide in.
In brick-and-mortar school, there was so much drama. Class was like a zoo. Kids were loud and throwing things. The teachers didn’t have any control over the class. In an environment like that, it’s impossible to focus. How am I supposed to get anything done? How is a teacher going to help me when he can’t even calm his class down? Academically, I didn’t have any teachers to help me when I needed it.
I started getting bullied more and more as I got older. I was called names and harassed physically and emotionally. I was called fat and ugly and worthless. My seventh grade year was my worst year because in seventh grade you were considered upper school, so you were up there with all the older kids – which meant a lot more bullying.
There was verbal harassment. There was sexual harassment. Guys would harass me. Girls would be really mean. I was getting bullied left and right.
That’s an awkward age anyway because you’re just entering your teenage years, and it can be extra difficult when you’re female, because society and media are telling you what’s beautiful and what’s not. It’s tough being a teenager, so I was really vulnerable. I was emotionally broken down. I was depressed. It actually got to the point where I became suicidal. Thank God, I was too chicken...”
ECOT to the rescue
“I actually heard about ECOT through a TV commercial. Just hearing that there was an alternative option was music to my ears. I couldn’t focus in a brick-and-mortar school, but I wanted to graduate, so I asked my parents about it. I wasn’t the most social person anyway, and I’d be in the safety and privacy of my own home. It was a safer option for me.
So we tried ECOT. I enrolled in eighth grade, in 2009 when I was 14. I was skeptical because it was on a computer. I really didn’t know what to expect. They brought my computer and set everything up for me and my sister (who’s six years younger and five grades below me). Once I got into my classroom, I met my teachers and the other kids through the chat box. We had a fun conversation, and everybody was really nice.
With ECOT, there’s so much one-on-one with the teachers. They have additional help sessions you can attend, where it’s just you and the teacher or maybe a few other students. You can call the teachers to ask for help, and they help you as much as you need. There was so much help available to me.
I actually got an education – a healthy education – at ECOT. My grades skyrocketed. I had straight A’s and a couple of B’s – never had anything under a B-minus, thanks to ECOT. I graduated with honors.
I was on the National Honor Society, and ECOT made it an official event where you get to dress up and get your certificate. ECOT made me feel like I was a part of something special. I felt like I could do great things in the future, thanks to ECOT – one, because I have a great education, and two, because they provided me with so many opportunities.”
Finding her identity in ECOT
“When I was in private school, I was around kids so they saw what I wore. We all wore uniforms; we all looked the same. I didn’t really have my own identity yet because I was 14, fresh out of private school, wearing the same uniform every day. But when I got to ECOT, I wasn’t around anybody but my family, so I started experimenting with my style and wearing what I liked. The freedom I had to express myself was my favorite part.
I didn’t have a brick-and-mortar school to tell me, ‘You can’t wear that. You can’t wear your hair like that.’ I didn’t have those rules. When I went to ECOT events where I could meet my classmates and teachers face-to-face, people would come up to me and say, ‘Wow, you look really cool. I love your hair. I love your outfit. You look really artistic, really creative.’
I was like, ‘Whoa, I think I actually have a style now, because people like what I wear.’ That was a big step from getting made fun of in my uniform to getting recognition for outfits that I put together myself. It felt awesome. I’m always trying new things with my clothes and my hair, and I can do that with confidence now because of ECOT.”
Becoming the face of ECOTtv
Around 2010, ECOT’s media guy at the time emailed me and said, ‘You know, Sydney, we’re starting this thing called ECOTtv,’ and he asked me if I wanted to be an anchor. He said, ‘You’ve got your own style, you could showcase your style while you give the news.’
That was such a great opportunity because my style, my individuality, had been recognized. Who gets this privilege at 14, 15 years old to tell the news on statewide TV, but you get to be yourself at the same time? I felt like a professional, but in a fun environment.
I was the very first anchor of ECOTtv, and I did that from ninth grade in 2010 up to my graduating year in 2014. I also did a commercial for ECOT during my senior year, talking about how I found out about ECOT, why I’m here and where I’m going. Wherever I went, people recognized me: ‘You’re the girl on ECOTtv. You’re the girl on the ECOT commercial.’
I wouldn’t have even considered going into broadcasting, but I got broadcasting experience under my belt – which may be another field I can look into. It’s helped with my people skills because I’m in front of the camera all the time; I get to talk to people and meet new people. It was a great opportunity for the future.
To know me now, you would have no idea that I was once depressed and suicidal unless I told you, because now, I have a very outgoing personality. I love meeting new people. I love talking to people. Ever since ECOT, I love putting myself out there and trying new things.”
From “quiet kid” to “social butterfly”
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that because you’re home-schooled, you don’t get to be social. It was quite the opposite for me! I became a social butterfly. I had so much fun meeting classmates and teachers at ECOT’s events. They have family nights, field trips, dances, social gatherings and lots of fun ways to participate, statewide.
I socialized more in ECOT than I did when I was around people all the time. Isn’t that so oxymoronic? ECOT provided me with so many opportunities. I’d recommend ECOT to anybody in a heartbeat because of how it’s helped me. The school helped save me. Even just from an academic standpoint, my grades shot up and I kept them up. It didn’t only help me academically, but it actually helped me to develop my own identity.
I thank ECOT for helping me develop into the young woman I am now, because my self-confidence is through the roof. I have high self-esteem. I carry myself in a way that is presentable. I respect myself, because I had no self-respect before – none whatsoever – but thanks to ECOT, I can be presentable and approachable and still be myself, unapologetically.”
Sydney’s next chapter
This year, Sydney and her sister launched a music merchandise business called Rebel Rebel (after the David Bowie song), combining their love of music and fashion. Sydney designs and sews a lot of her own clothes anyway, so she decided to start selling her creations along the music festival circuit she travels every summer. With her sister, she makes purses out of vinyl records, revamps classic rock band T-shirts, and customizes denim, leather and other materials into edgy clothes and accessories for men and women.
Watch for Sydney and her Rebel Rebel gear at festivals across Ohio this summer – and don’t be surprised if she returns to your screen as a broadcast personality someday in the future.
The environment in which we live shapes the people we become. This is especially true with our children, their classrooms and manifests itself in ways far beyond what's represented on their report cards. In 2016, there is no reason why all students shouldn't at least be entitled to a safe and distraction free learning environment. By supporting Public School Choice, we support parents and students right to choose a public school option that works best for each student's unique needs.
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