For Rachel Pearson, the bullying began around grade 5.
It was a particular group of girls that gave her a hard time. The stress caused by the teasing proved so intense that Rachel started to experience migraines, and underwent medical treatment to help alleviate them.
Rachel, now in grade 12, says the stress headaches have persisted to this day.
“They can be tough to manage, but I’m used to it by now,” she admits.
Eventually, Rachel approached school staff, and the problem went away for a time.
However, when Rachel and her tormentors attended Stratford Northwestern secondary school together, the bullying flared up again.
“The thing with girls is they’re not very up front about what they’re doing,” says Rachel. “Most of it’s said behind your back; petty stuff.”
This time, despite approaching the teachers and principal about it, Rachel says very little was done. The migraines came back.
Finally, in grade 11, she took the drastic measure of changing schools in order to escape. As Rachel lives near St. Pauls between Stratford and St. Marys, she was eligible to attend high school at DCVI.
Almost immediately, the situation improved.
Rachel says she already had friends in St. Marys that she knew from her part-time job at Tim Hortons. They introduced her to more people, and things got better.
Now, Rachel has experienced a kind of redemption: She’s been awarded the Horatio Alger Ontario Scholarship, which recognizes students demonstrating financial need who have overcome adversity in the past. The scholarship will contribute $5,000 towards her post-secondary education.
Rachel found the award while researching potential scholarships. The deadline left her only two weeks to put an application together.
While financial need plays a large part in deciding who receives the award, so too do grades. Luckily, Rachel had a 95 per cent average last year. This year, her marks are in the high 80s.
“I’ve maintained a pretty high average considering the amount of hours I work,” she says.
However, she still had the “overcoming adversity” quotient to address in applying for the scholarship.
“I’d read what other people had written,” she says of other applicants. “Death, incarceration, divorce… I hadn’t experienced anything like that.”
Instead, she wrote about the bullying, the headaches, and having to change schools.
She got her supervisor at work to fill out a letter of recommendation, gathered all remaining pertinent information, and submitted her application with fingers crossed.
The effort paid off. Nearly 3,500 students from Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia applied for the scholarship, while only 68 received the money; 14 of which were from Ontario.
“I was at school when I opened the email,” she says. “I freaked out; I was so stunned.”
Rachel’s been accepted at the University of Guelph and will study criminal justice and public policy in the fall. Because of her high marks, the university has also granted her a $2,000 entrance scholarship.
The Horatio Alger money is given directly to the university, where it will be split evenly over the next four years to help cover Rachel’s tuition.
Rachel says she became interested in criminal law after reading true crime stories in high school, especially that of Stephen Truscott.
She plans on pursuing a law degree following her undergrad, and hopes to one day be a prosecution lawyer.