Right royal reward for nursing student

Otago Polytechnic second-year nursing student Ashleigh Smith will be awarded a young leaders...
Otago Polytechnic second-year nursing student Ashleigh Smith will be awarded a young leaders award by the Queen next month. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
An Otago Polytechnic nursing student will be recognised by the Queen for her work turning the suicides of three schoolmates into lessons to help others.

Ashleigh Smith (19), of Naseby, will receive the Queen's Young Leaders Award for co-leading Sticks'n Stones, a youth-led group aimed at equipping youth with the tools to recognise and stand up to bullying.

Her involvement began when three of her schoolmates took their lives within eight months.

``It was the most horrific thing I've ever been through.''

Then a third-former at Maniototo Area School, she was one of a group of pupils from five Central Otago schools who started Sticks'n Stones in 2013.

The programme to educate young people about bullying was a way to deal with the ``absolute confusion, anger and sadness'' she felt at losing people she admired, Miss Smith said.

Five years on, she still found herself thinking about what her schoolmates would have been doing with their lives, but also how to prevent bullying.

``We put a lot of pressure on youth and saying they should confront bullies. Our youth who are involved in the programmes are saying we need education to know how to stand up in these situations.''

When she was not studying, one passion was visiting schools and speaking to young people about how to develop skills to address bullying via social media and in person.

Her involvement had also influenced her approach as a nursing student.

``It's a career with some incredible ways to learn skills ...

``To be able to go in and help someone through probably some of the lowest points in their life, and get them through that is incredible,'' she said.

She is on placement at Dunedin Hospital and did not have time to learn the etiquette for meeting the Queen.

``It's a month today until I'm at the palace so I'm hoping someone will teach me when I'm over there.''

Her ``incredibly supportive family'', the School of Nursing and lost schoolmates would be on her mind during the visit.

Miss Smith would be one of 60 from the Commonwealth to get an award and spend five days at Cambridge University learning about leadership.

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