A 6th grader in Thomaston loves reading, science and cheerleading.
However, it's boxing that's helping 11-year-old Jalysa Smith deal with years of bullying.
At Blue Boy Boxing in Thomaston, boxers of all ages and skill levels can be found.
Among the punching bags, and mostly boys, is Jalysa.
"It's really nice because all the other kids know what to do and they're happy coming here and everyone looks happy when they're punching the bag," she said.
She didn't go there all on her own.
Earlier this year, her mother posted on Facebook after she claimed the district did nothing to stop the bullying her daughter was experiencing at school.
"It started in elementary school with children calling her a slave or making fun of her hair or being physical," said Melissa Hamel, Jalysa's mother. "It's devastating her. The amount of anxiety she has in the morning to go to school is catastrophic. No 11-year-old should feel this way. She comes home from school every day crying."
Kareem Blue, owner of Blue Boy Boxing, saw Hamel's post and wanted to help.
"When I was younger I had issues with bullying and boxing helped me," Blue said. "So I reached out to her and told her to come on down, check the club out, see if it's for her. I can help build some confidence."
"I was kind of hesitant almost. I was like, should I or should I not? And then I heard about Coach Blue and he [said] it and what he wanted to do for me and what he does here," Jalysa said.
Jalysa trains for one hour three days a week. She said that's all it takes for her confidence to go up and anxiety to go down.
"We started with one on one's and he just taught me the basic jab cross and we kept working on hooks," she explained. "And then I came into the actual class with the other kids and he worked with everybody. He told us what to do and told us how to do it."
"When she first came in she was hiding behind her mom," Blue said. "She didn't even want to look me in the eye or speak to me, but now she sees me, she comes in and does her own thing."
Hamel said she sees a big difference in Jalysa after every class. However, she still wants change from school.
"When she's here, she's happy, she's fun," Hamel said. "And when we get home tonight she'll be an 11-year-old. She'll be herself and she'll be goofy and silly, but 7:00 tomorrow morning, that anxiety will hit again and it'll be a struggle to get her to school and I have to send her to school. I just want answers. My daughter shouldn't have to suffer."
According to stopbullying.gov, 28 percent of students in Grades 6 through 12 experience bullying.
Not every student is fortunate enough to have a safe place like Jalysa does with Blue Boy Boxing.
She has one simple message for everyone.
"I would say just speak up and don't be afraid to speak up," Jalysa said.
Channel 3 reached out to Thomaston Public Schools for a comment.
"The Board of Education promotes a secure and happy school climate, conducive to teaching and learning that is free from threat, harassment and any type of bullying behavior," it said in a statement. "The district says that they define bullying as the repeated use by one or more students of a written, oral or electronic communication or a physical act or gesture by one or more students repeatedly directed at another student attending school in the same school district. Thomaston Public Schools applauds students who participate in outside activities that support their interests."
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