Caught on film: Las Vegas teens tell tales of struggle

She wouldn’t even allow herself to drink water freely. Just a sip and three almonds before karate.

She would faint halfway through practice, but that didn’t change a thing, said Madison Santoli, describing the year when she lost a third of her body weight.

Her year in fourth grade.

It was years ago, but the memories are vivid, things like the feel of her mother’s tears landing on her calves as she rubbed her back when Santoli was in bed, too weak to go to school.

She remembers her brother and sister staying at Mandalay Bay for three days when her dad stayed at home with her, making every food she loved, or used to love. He laid it all out before her, including Swedish Fish and Watermelon Sour Patch candies. He sat for hours until she finally sliced a piece of steak. She chewed it, but then spit it into a napkin.

“My dad just broke down and cried,” said Santoli, now a senior at West Career and Technical Academy, describing her self-destructive anorexia in detail few have heard.

She is about to share her story with the world.

A camera crew from the USA Network arrived at the school Tuesday to film her and eight other WCTA students as they prepare to tell their personal stories of not fitting in, being bullied, standing up to intolerance or being the bully themselves. The students spent an hour every day for a week with storytelling instructors from The Moth, a New York-based nonprofit devoted to personal storytelling.

“Our job is not to tell your story but let you tell it yourself,” said lead instructor Kate Tellers the first day, as students spun their stories off the cuff to strangers.

Her job: Guide the students in distilling their stories to a few minutes of focused, moving material, which they will present in a school assembly Wednesday and also film for the 11th installment of USA Network’s “Characters Unite” Storytelling Tour using students. Their stories will then appear on

Traveling to schools in 11 cities, from New Orleans in 2010 to Denver and now Las Vegas, Tellers has been lead instructor every step of the way.

WCTA student Juan Garcia speaks of his first day in kindergarten — his mother taking photos of him, proud they have left Mexico to provide him a better life, his excitement. And then the teacher began to speak.

“I don’t know a word she’s saying,” he said. “I can’t speak this language.”

Other students take advantage of that to make him do things he shouldn’t. But one boy teaches him to read using a “Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back” picture book.

“I still have it to this day.”

It’s no coincidence the storytelling training started during Nevada’s Week of Respect, created in 2011 by state law­makers in the same state Senate bill cracking down on public school bullying.

The state has long required schools to report suspensions or expulsions for violence, weapons and drugs. But the 2011 law mandated that all districts report bullying incidents, including cyber bullying through cellphones and the Internet that results in suspensions or expulsions. School staff also must report all bullying incidents — witnessed or rumored — to school principals. Principals must investigate each one.

Clark County School District, which has about 315,000 students, suspended or expelled 1,736 students for bullying or intimidation in 2012-13, up from 1,584 in 2011-12.

But few bullying incidents result in such stiff penalties, said Brandon Moeller, assistant director of the district’s Equity and Diversity Department. In September 2011, the district also created an online site for anyone to submit a suspected bullying incident. The report is sent to the school principal and district.

That creates a system the district uses to hold students and schools accountable.

“It assures 100 percent of the cases are investigated,” said Moeller during training session for educators about bullying. It was held on Oct. 1 at Texas Station. “There are no excuses.”

Principals have to start investigating complaints within 10 days and report their findings, he said.

The district received 1,801 bullying reports from September 2011 to September 2012. Investigations found 67 percent of the complaints to be valid. Middle schools accounted for almost as many incidents as elementary schools and high schools combined. The results for 2012-13 are still being compiled.

Most of the invalidated reports weren’t false but were cases of people labeling an incident as bullying when it is not. It could just be an isolated instance, and that isn’t bullying.

“Everybody wants to say it’s a bullying issue,” Moeller said.

Though elementary schools receive the fewest complaints, anti-bullying efforts need to be a focus as early as possible, Bozarth Elementary School Principal Rodney Saunders said.

“We have to intervene early,” take threats seriously and children saying they’re going to kill themselves or someone else. Saunders’ counselor has done four suicide referrals this school year for Bozarth students.

“I want to go to sleep with a clear conscience,” Saunders said.

Santoli, always a perfectionist, even when young in karate and competitive figure skating, remembers the first time she consciously decided not to eat though she was hungry. She remembers other students teasing her for being scrawny. Her reaction to not eat didn’t make sense, she knows.

“I just loved having that control. But I was out of control.”

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at or 702-383-0279.

NSPCA Gets Kittens From LA
Man killed during road-rage incident
Las Vegas police are looking for two men involved in the shooting death of a man outside a 7-Eleven story at Bonanza Road and Maryland Parkway on Nov. 12, 2018. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System hosts Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ
The 4th Annual Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ is held in celebration of Veterans Day at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System Medical Center in North Las Vegas, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wildfires in Southern California
Wildfires hit Ventura County, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2018. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dedication of Nevada's Battle Born memorial
The state of Nevada on Friday dedicated its Battle Born memorial honoring 895 state residents who have died in America’s wars.
Las Vegas police and Sunrise Children's Hospital hope to prevent infant deaths
The Metropolitan Police Department and Sunrise Children's Hospital held a press conference to get the message out on preventable infant deaths attributed to "co-sleeping" and other unsafe sleeping habits. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
No serious injuries after car hits tree in south Las Vegas
One person reported minor injuries but wasn’t hospitalized after a Wednesday morning crash in the south valley.
Nellis Air Force Base keeps airmen fed
Nellis Air Force Bass airmen have delicious and healthy food items, and a variety of dining facilities to choose from. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Las Vegas police determined that a suspicious package found Monday morning at a central valley post office was not a threat.
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Police evacuated the area around the Garside Station post office early Monday morning near Oakey and Decatur boulevards.
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
Las Vegas family shares flu warning
Carlo and Brenda Occhipinti lost their son, Carlo Jr., or “Junior,” to the flu last year.
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Stadust Raceway
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright on the TV show "Bonanza," and the actor's passion for auto racing at Stardust International Raceway in Las Vegas during the 1960s. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal.)
Project Neon 85 percent complete
On Wednesday morning Oct. 31, Interstate 15 northbound lane restrictions were removed opening up Exit 41 to Charleston Blvd. On Thursday Nov. 1, Interstate 15 southbound lane restrictions were removed. The new southbound off-ramp to Sahara Ave. and Highland Dr. also opened Thursday, November 1. With Project Neon 85% finished the flow of traffic on Interstate 15 has substantially diminished. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Girl killed after jumping from bridge onto 215 Beltway in Henderson
Eastbound lanes of the 215 Beltway are shut down by the Nevada Highway Patrol after a female juvenile jumped from the 215 overpass at Stephanie and was struck by a FedEx tractor trailer. Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal @Vegas88s
Kristallnacht story
An interview with 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Alexander Kuechel who survived seven concentration camps and didn’t leave Germany until after World War II was over. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1 dead in central Las Vegas crash
An early Wednesday morning crash left at least one person dead and another injured. The crash was reported just around 3 a.m. at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Swenson Street. At least two vehicles were involved in the crash, one of which caught fire. Debris was scattered across the intersection as police combed the area as they investigated the scene. Flamingo is blocked in both directions between Swenson and Cambridge Street. Northbound Swenson is blocked at the intersection.
Richard Knoeppel named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year
Richard Knoeppel, an architecture design instructor at the Advanced technologies Academy, named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mojave Poppy Bees
(Zach Portman/University of Minnesota Department of Entomology) Male Mojave poppy bees exhibit territorial fighting behavior. The Center for Biological Diversity wants the bee, found only in Clark County, to be added to the endangered species list.
Clark County Schools announce random searches
Clark County School District middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons under a new initiative to combat the wave of guns found on campus. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Local Spotlight
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like