Is it: True? Helpful? Inspiring? Necessary? Kind? These were the questions posed to students of all ages across Waterloo Region this week in the first comprehensive across-school-boards commemoration of national Bullying Awareness Week.
The local branch of the initiative saw Catholic and regional boards come together with the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council to teach kids how to respect one another in the classroom – with a big focus on social media and the effects of cyber bullying – through the project THINK, piloted by a Kitchener’s St. Mary’s High School last year.“Because it was so successful we decided it would be a good idea for both school boards to roll it out across the region,” said John Shewchuck, chief managing officer at the Waterloo Catholic District School Board.
Similar ideas carried out at St. Mary’s in 2012 yielded noticeable results at one of the region’s largest schools. Teachers who in the past have dealt with a slew of cyber bullying incidents at the school noticed dramatic changes after the project wrapped up, Schewchuck said.
Last year, St. Mary’s vice-principal Joan Grundy suggested students carry blue elastic bands around their smart phones as a way of encouraging them to think before they text or post. The idea carried over to this year’s initiative for Grades 7-12. All students were also encouraged to wear pink during the week, a signature colour of anti-bullying.
Several schools held assemblies, including the School Heroes Unite at St. Teresa elementary school in Elmira, where students learned about anti-bullying through magic tricks and stories on Thursday.
The ease and anonymity with which cyber bullying occurs makes it a big issue in schools.
“In the old days everybody knew the schoolyard bully because they were doing it in full view of everybody else. With social media, that’s kind of done behind the scenes. It’s quite cowardly for people to do it that way but it’s very easy,” said Shewchuck.
More than 170 public and Catholic schools participated this year with various in-class activities and assemblies taking place at every age level. The crime prevention council sent out a kit to each school with suggested classroom lesson ideas which asked students to draw anti-bullying comics and start positive online discussions.
Shewchuck believes bullying is not just a youth issue, but the goal is to stop the cycle in the early years.
“Just because it’s in the schools doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a youth issue – all you need to do is take a look at what goes on in politics and business and there is bullying everywhere. We’re just trying to get at the root of it.”
Fittingly, this year’s anti-bullying events fell in line with Free the Children’s We Day Waterloo Region which saw a number of human rights figures and celebrities – Martin Luther King III, the foundation’s founders Craig Kielburger, Nelly Furtado – and a number of motivational speakers present to youths on change and empowerment at the Kitchener Auditorium on Wednesday.