Most school mornings, fourteen-year-old Will would wake up feeling sick.
For four years Will was teased by his classmates because of his skin condition. He has no pigment on large areas of his skin.
"They called me names like 'dust mark' because I've got, like, blotches," he says.
14-year-old Will has a skin condition which makes him stand out at school
It's still hard for his mum Angela to hear.
"Some days he would be upset, crying, just really sad. His learning was suffering," she says.
Unfortunately, schoolyard bullying incidents are widespread.
One in four Australian students reported being the victim of frequent bullying, costing the economy an estimated $500 million a year.
Bullying experts say kids who stand out – like Will – are most at risk of being bullied.
Eventually, Will found the courage to stand up for himself, which brought an end to the bullying.
According to his mum, Will’s resolve was the result of sustained self-esteem building, both at home and at school.
“At home Will was taught how important he was, how strong he was and how loved he was,” Angela says.
“The school was very supportive and provided Will with the strength to finally stand up for himself. Each year his school received a visit from the Life Education van, and the resilience-building skills Will learned in that program year on year helped him to face the problems he was having at school.”
This year, due to demand from parents and schools, Life Education launched a new program called Relate Respect Connect, which goes to the heart of the problem of bullying by teaching kids about safe and respectful relationships.
Chief executive Kellie Sloane says Relate Respect Connect provides students with strategies to manage conflict, deal with social pressures, and to navigate relationships both online and off.
"The program builds social and emotional learning in children — getting to the root of how to build safe and positive relationships, to develop empathy, communicate respectfully, including how to respectfully disagree with someone," Ms Sloane says.
Kids are encouraged to stand-up for one another in the playground.
"There is a lot to be said for students helping each other out, and that is absolutely part of the solution for this problem," she says.
Angela welcomes the approach.
“If Will’s school had this new program and students learned how to relate well, show respect, and make great connections, maybe it wouldn’t have been a problem in the first place,” she says.
Will's certainly on board with the idea.
"Yeah, it’s important to get as many friends on your side as you can," he says.