From the stage of "America's Got Talent," Chippewa Elementary School, 12425 S. Austin Ave., Palos Heights, welcomed BMX rider, Matt Wilhelm, for an anti-bullying presentation on January 30. (Photos by Kelly White)

From the stage of "America's Got Talent," Chippewa Elementary School, 12425 S. Austin Ave., Palos Heights, welcomed BMX rider, Matt Wilhelm, for an anti-bullying presentation on January 30. (Photos by Kelly White)

Palos Heights School District 128 sends anti-bullying message

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 From the stage of “America’s Got Talent”, Chippewa Elementary School, 12425 S. Austin Ave, Palos Heights, welcomed BMX rider, Matt Wilhelm, for an anti-bullying presentation on January 30.

By Kelly White

Palos Heights School District 128 has taken a positive approach to bullying prevention.

From the stage of “America’s Got Talent,” Chippewa Elementary School, 12425 S. Austin Ave., Palos Heights, welcomed BMX rider, Matt Wilhelm, a Guinness World Record Holder and the 2022 USA National Champion on January 30.

“My dreams were made possible because I never gave up,” Wilhem, 45, said. “I encourage kids to not listen to that voice inside their head that says, ‘You can’t do it’.”

Having grown up in Oak Lawn, Wilhelm, a graduate of Oak Lawn Community High School, is also a motivational speaker who performs at over 300 schools per year. He was featured in the award-winning documentary “Stop Bullying: Speak UP with President Obama.”

Instilling that message to today’s youth, Wilhelm held an anti-bullying school assembly at Chippewa Elementary School, focusing on kindness, positivity, and the difference that one person can make.

“When you say something nice, it can be so valuable to some else’s self-esteem,” Wilhelm said. “But, when you say something mean, it can tear someone else apart. Think about what you say and how you make others feel. Be the nice person. The world needs more heroes.”

Not a stereotypical BMX rider, Wilhelm, a saxophone player since the fifth grade, received a music scholarship from Millikin University in Decatur. He graduated magna cum laude. In 2022, Wilhelm won the USA National Championship, and he is currently the #1 ranked BMX Flatland rider in the United States.

However, these accomplishments were the result of Wilhelm’s strength when it came to overcoming bullying.

“When I grew up, BMX was not an Olympic sport yet and the bikers and the skaters, like me, were the kids who got picked on,” Wilhem said. “I was an easy target. It all started with one kid making a joke about my ears. I was bullied and laughed at but one day, another kid, who became my own personal superhero, stood up for me, and the bullying stopped. One small act of kindness can change everything.”

Thinking that his story of his youth might inspire students, Wilhelm began performing and speaking at schools during the competition off season of 2005, covering the topics of perseverance, bullying, kindness and resilience.

“I initially thought that I would speak at ten schools per year,” Wilhelm said. “I had no idea that the topic of bullying was about to become such a big national issue.”

Wilhelm is now one of the most requested school assembly speakers in the country.

At Tuesday’s assembly, Wilhelm shared his powerful story with students of how he was once a bullied kid who turned into a national champion.

He discussed how bullying is repetitious behavior and can include intentionally leaving kids out, name calling and more. He encouraged students that if they feel like someone is always trying to do something to hurt them on purpose, they should immediately tell a teacher, parent or adult. He also reviewed the difference between tattling on someone, trying to get them in trouble on purpose, versus addressing a concern with an adult when someone is being hurt, whether it be verbally, physically or emotionally.

Wilhelm’s anti-bullying program empowered students to stand up for others, stand up for themselves, and to simply be everyday heroes, according to school officials.

“Matt’s message that all children can be a hero is both inspiring and encouraging,” Amanda Curran, first-grade teacher at Chippewa Elementary School, said. “His model of kindness, the power of words, and never giving up was embraced by all of the students at Chippewa Elementary School.”

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BMX rider, Matt Wilhelm, poses with students from Chippewa School after an anti-bullying presentation on January 30.

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