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High school student’s respect for life gets club started

Bentonville High School junior stands up for the unborn despite controversy

Published: May 23, 2015   
Alesia Schaefer
Jessica Nyden, 16, a junior at Bentonville High School, has gotten negative and positive feedback for starting Students for Life at her school.

BENTONVILLE — Part of the high school experience is finding a club you like and joining. But what if the club you have in mind is not offered?

Jessica Nyden, 16, did not see this as a roadblock. After attending 40 Days for Life in Fayetteville, part of a twice annual international campaign, in the fall of 2013, she decided she wanted to start a respect life club for students.

Nyden, a junior at Bentonville High School, contacted the headquarters for Students for Life in Washington, D.C., and set the wheels in motion.

Getting the information packet in the mail was easy, but getting the club on the roster in her school, not so much.

A parishioner at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Rogers, Nyden talked with friends and other students who shared similar beliefs about joining the club. She felt there was interest and began the application process for new clubs, but to her surprise, the application was rejected three times.

“The first time,” Nyden said, “it was because the club was thought to be too similar to another club for first-time parents. Then the deadline for accepting the club, typically done around the beginning of the month, was pushed back.”

Finally, the club received approval and held its first meeting in October 2014. Currently, it is the only high school pro-life club in the area.

Starting a club at the largest high school in the state has not been without its difficulties. Flyers stating “Legal does not equal right” were posted with meeting times for the first meeting but were quickly taken down. But it was a video announcement that was met with resistance and not allowed because some administration thought wording contained in the message might be offensive. Despite these setbacks, the group hosted speakers and gave presents to children in the Bentonville High School daycare at Christmas.

Missy Stone, national high school coordinator for Students for Life, traveled to northwest Arkansas to assist Nyden with a two and half-hour training she held in her home in early August. Stone answered questions club members had about the full spectrum of life issues.

With 300 high school clubs nationwide, Stone said Nyden is one of the top leaders.

“She has shown incredible leadership and has refused to back down from talking about abortion, even in the midst of hardships and discrimination. We are seeing more pro-life leaders her age step up and take the message into their high schools,” Stone said.

“I know it is a controversial topic and not everyone wants to discuss it because it can be uncomfortable,” Nyden said. Yet, the Bentonville Students for Life claims a membership of 25 from different walks of life and faiths. Nyden said there are members from the Baptist, Mormon and Catholic Church as well as some who have no affiliation.

Determination is just a part of who Nyden is. She moved with her parents and two siblings from near Las Vegas to Bentonville the summer before her freshman year. Since she began high school she has also become a member of the Republican Club and is currently vice president with plans to run for president in the fall. She is a member of the Key Club and the school impact council. When a city councilman she supported was running for election, she canvassed her neighborhood to help his campaign. Next month, she heads off to Girls State, a government-in-action learning program held at Harding University in Searcy.

“Jessica has a good understanding of how to approach people about human dignity,” said Julia Pritchett of Sidewalk Advocates, a pro-life movement offering counsel and intervention on the sidewalks of abortion centers. “I believe her group on campus understands that telling the truth is vital, but so is doing it with love.”

“After 40 Days for Life, I felt obligated to do something for the lives of these babies,” Nyden said. “I think this club is important because you don’t know what people are going through and you don’t know what you might say and how it might affect them.” The coming election year also doesn’t escape Nyden.

“Next year,” she said, emphasizing the importance of the club for high school students, “we can vote and we want pro-life people in office.”

Students for Life is one of 67 clubs at Bentonville High School. Although the clubs motto is to “change hearts and minds,” even some teachers are uncomfortable with being involved with the group. The first teacher sponsor decided it was too “risky,” according to Nyden, but the current sponsor has been very helpful.

 “Considering the challenges Jessica faced,” said her father, Paul Ostenberg, “it’s amazing she was able to get it started. But we are very proud of her.”

The club plans to create a giant chalk poster stating that 3,300 babies are aborted each day in the United States for its project for May.

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