Student Features

Bullies hurt but didn't break this Miss Teen Pennsylvania

Mar 11, 2014

Would any of the girls who bullied – no, who assaulted - Robyn Kass-Gergi in her former classroom schools have the guts to do what she does? ...

. . . The guts to be judged on her beauty, poise and personality in a teen pageant, to dance and sing onstage in musicals, to transfer to a new school in the middle of the year?

This PA Cyber junior from Wexford, Pa., will, by invitation of the organizers, represent Pennsylvania in the Miss Teenager American Pageant at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., this June.

Two years ago, Robyn made the top 15 as Miss Pennsylvania in the Miss Teen America Pageant in Tennessee, a competition run by the Miss America organization.

Despite her accomplishments on the lighted stage, Robyn, 17, has no aspirations of a professional career in that direction. She wants to be a doctor.

Why, then, does she push herself to enter pageants, to take dance, gymnastics and voice lessons, to audition and perform in musicals?

The answer lies partly in the way she and her mother chose to respond to the emotional and physical abuse that Robyn was subjected to in her former classroom schools.

Fighting for self-esteem

"I was bullied really bad in [traditional] public school and my mom thought I had self-esteem problems. Pageants were her idea," Robyn said.

Like many children, Robyn took dance and gymnastics lessons from the time she was little and has performed 10 years in Pittsburgh Musical Theater productions. She became involved with pageants in high school.

In middle school, she said, a fellow student stabbed her in the chest with a knitting needle, seriously enough for emergency room treatment.

In another incident, girls pushed Robyn into lockers. She wanted to get out of that school then, but her mother encouraged her at the time to tough it out. She did so until another attack during 10th grade.

"I didn't have any friends. I had been wanting to leave the school. One day I got pushed down some stairs, and Mom said that was it."

Switching to PA Cyber

On March 18, 2013, more than halfway through her sophomore year, Robyn enrolled in PA Cyber Charter School. In addition to getting away from the bullying, Robyn's absences from school for serious illnesses made PA Cyber, with its flexible classes, a good choice for her.

"I was in and out of the hospital for 84 days, so I missed a lot of school," she said.

A doctor at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh eventually diagnosed Robyn's long-standing gastric complaints as being caused as a hole in her stomach near the pyloric sphincter. As she was recuperating from stomach surgery to repair the ulcer, her appendix became inflamed and she had an appendectomy.

To top it off, Robyn is one of those unlucky people who suffer from migraine headaches.

Doctors told her that while there was no way to prove the pressures at a school caused her medical problems, they certainly made them worse.

Robyn's pageant, dancing, singing and musical theatre experiences and friendships have been a source of relaxation and accomplishment for her through this period of emotional upheaval and illnesses. She dances tap, jazz and pointe. She took professional voice lessons off and on for three years through Pittsburgh Musical Theater, and now takes private voice lessons each week.

Robyn has performed in several professional and conservatory musical theatre productions, including "Fame," "Footloose," "The Wizard of Oz," and "High School Musical." She played the role of Bielke, Tevye's youngest daughter, in "Fiddler on the Roof."

Telling her story

Pageants have given Robyn the chance to travel and meet new people. They test her poise and ability to model in evening gowns and sportswear in front of an audience. Pageant interviews reveal her personality and test her ability to relate her thoughts to others.

Those interviews invariably bring out her passion and concerns about bullying, and about the methods – some effective, some not – that schools employ to combat student-on-student violence. She said all schools have anti-bullying assemblies and campaigns, but too often the message "doesn't get through the heads" of those who are doing the bullying.

Robyn speaks out against bullying whenever she has the opportunity. Last year on National Bullying Prevention Day she shared her experiences with her friends and peers at Pittsburgh Musical Theater. At Cranberry she spoke to a support group for children whose genetic abnormality causes them to be frequent targets of bullies.

The flexibility of instruction through PA Cyber has allowed Robyn to not only catch up but to get ahead on her class credits required for graduation. She plans to graduate as a junior this year if she has to go to school all summer, she said.

Her plan is to enroll in a good university and embark on a pre-med course of study, with the eventual goal of becoming a physician.

Robyn hasn't forgotten about the mean things that were done to her in school. She doesn't think about them much, though, except when called upon to tell her story. The bullies hurt her, but they didn't break her. With the support of her mother, Robyn is charting her own course in life.

About PA Cyber

Serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber) is one of the largest, most experienced, and most successful online public schools in the nation. PA Cyber's online learning environments, personalized instructional methods, and choices of curricula connect Pennsylvania students and their families with state-certified and highly-qualified teachers, and rich academic content that is aligned to state standards. Founded in 2000, PA Cyber is headquartered in Midland (Beaver County) and maintains a network of support offices throughout the state. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment by any school-age child residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and does not charge tuition to students or families.