Published by Collier Citizen
Mar. 24, 2014
Article by Lance Shearer
Lizzie Sider gave a moving performance.
Although she’s just 15 years old, the young singer worked her audience like a pro, and had them following her every word and gesture. For the audience, third through sixth grade children at Immokalee’s Highlands Elementary School, Sider’s simple message, that bullying is not OK, was presented in easily understandable terms, with inclusion and without judgment.
Sider was moving in another sense, as well, taking advantage of cordless mic technology to bounce from one end of the room, where hundreds of kids sat in groups on the floor, to the other, keeping them involved and letting those in the back be part of the action too.
"No one has the power to ruin your day," she told them, and the catchphrase was repeated on the banner that hung behind her. The message, she said, came from something her father told her, when she had been picked on and bullied herself.
Being on the receiving end of bullying from other kids, Lizzie demonstrated, is virtually a universal experience.
"Close your eyes," she told the audience, and the kids and teachers too (mostly) did. "Raise your hands if you've ever been teased. Now, on three, open your eyes." The children looked around and saw they were not alone, that even teachers had felt the pain of being excluded.
With two top 40 singles on the Nashville Music Row country chart, Lizzie Sider has been riding a wave of success. The Boca Raton native and budding recording artist feels strongly enough about bullying that she made it the theme of her hit song "Butterfly." The kids at Highlands had been listening to Sider's song in the days leading up to her visit, and had decorated the walls of the multi-purpose room where she appeared with butterfly artwork they created. For the kids, it was as though Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift had dropped in on their school.
Lizzie has been dropping in on a lot of schools.
"After my song came out, I sent emails to some schools, and it's just kind of exploded," she said.
Beginning in California, then returning to Florida, she has visited almost 200 schools in the past year, so it's no wonder her performance has become so polished. Next month, she heads to Texas and more school assemblies to sing her song and share her message.
"There were times when I saw someone being bullied, and didn't do anything about it," she confessed to the group. "Even if it's not your best friend, you can help out. I wrote my song about my experiences, but it's really about all of us. All we need to do is spread our wings and fly."
If Lizzie's dad changed her life by telling her no one had the power to ruin her day, that she could take responsibility for her own feelings, she has changed his as well. As she barnstorms around the country, Lizzie travels with Don and Carole Sider, mom and dad. They have been homeschooling her this year, living on the road, acting as roadies, agent and sounding board.
Don Sider warmed up the crowd and introduced Lizzie to the kids at Highlands, and watched proudly from the side of the room as she connected with the kids. He is an attorney, and has been doing his work from cars and hotel rooms around his daughter's schedule. "Thank God for email," he said. With no grants or financial assistance, they have been paying their own expenses.
Lizzie and her parents passed out percussion instruments, and had teachers and students form a "band" up on the stage, then led a conga line that snaked around the room.
"I'm only 15. It really wasn't too long ago I was your age," she told the kids, and cautioned them that being the one doing the bullying isn't cool, and is really a sign of weakness. She asked the children why they thought people bully others, and like a television host, took the mic around to share their answers.
For a finale, Lizzie treated the kids to a live rendition of "Butterfly."
"They knew me, plain and shy, but all along I was a" and she had everyone shout the end of the rhyme.
Highlands Assistant Principal Steve Grimes and several teachers said they don't see bullying as a major problem in their school, and they do have a program in place to deal with it. Grimes liked the program, though.
"It's a good message, good education and delivered in a fun way," he said.
And bullying can happen out of sight of teachers and adults. There were all those raised hands when Lizzie asked the question. With approximately 750 students, Highlands is a Title One school, in which more than 90 percent of the kids qualify for free or reduced price breakfast and lunch.
As students exited, Lizzie passed out hundreds of autographed pictures, and scores of hugs, to them. She invited them to connect with her on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, iTunes or Facebook, or on her website, www.lizziesider.com.
In Collier County, Lizzie had already taken her message to six other elementary schools, and she's back on the road. Next stop, another school in Cocoa Beach, and soon to Texas, where she has another 70 school visits lined up.