The Kitimat Rotary Club teamed up to bring in the Red Cross to deliver an anti-bullying program to Mount Elizabeth Middle Secondary School.
The program, part of the Red Cross’ Respect Ed program, makes students themselves the leaders of the program and trains them to present anti-bullying messages to younger grades.
“I come in and train youth facilitators so I’m training them to deliver anti-bullying workshops in schools to other grades,” said the Red Cross’ Jesse Bowen, who came to Kitimat to get the program going locally.
“All the workshops are highly interactive, get kids up and moving,” she said.
Among the core lessons of the anti-bullying program are ways to create positive relationships to combat bullying behaviour.
“We start talking about healthy relationships and healthy schools and what that looks like,” she said. “We discuss the difference between bullying and harassment, ways to intervene, resources they can turn to.”
The program also talks about the three parts to any bullying behaviour: The person who is doing the bullying, the victim, and the bystander to any incident.
While this program has been run by the Red Cross since 1984, Bowen said bullying is an issue that is continually growing more prominent.
“Bullying has become a bigger issue over the last few years, for sure, particularly with the introduction of cyber bullying,” she said. “Bullying is a fairly serious problem in a lot of schools. Teen suicide as a result of bullying is way up.”
Social media has meant bullying behaviour can follow kids home, and programs that are advertised as more private don’t even offer protection people might expect.
Bowen refers to a program called SnapChat that is supposed to erase a message or photo shortly after receiving, but it’s not immune to screenshots, for example.
“A digital record is permanent. You erase it, but you erase it from your phone…but it’s still out there,” she said.
The effect of the proliferation of social media applications hasn’t gone unnoticed by the students themselves.
“It’s [bullying] gotten way worse with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat and all these social media websites,” said MEMSS student Brodie Chartrend, one of a select number of students who were accepted into this anti-bullying program.
But he casts that as a general issue for any modern students, and he finds MEMSS itself a safe place for the most part.
“I find it’s pretty safe but sometimes I see people getting bullied or being called names and I find it’s not fair for people to always be picked on.”
For grade 9 student Chelsea Pacheco, she’s learned a great deal from the program.
“It’s not just the bully,” she said about any conflict between students.
“I’ve learned that the bystander is one of the most important parts [of the situation]. We can’t point our finger at the bully,” she said.
Each grade has its own personality and when it comes to conflicts of bullying she sees it more in younger grades than older, which emphasizes the importance of these students taking their message to the younger grades.
“We’re trying to get people to interact so that maybe we can stop this problem in the future,” she said.
Simon Baldo, a grade 10 student, said that fosering a positive relationship rather than a negative one is part of the lesson he has taken away.
“If you establish a negative relationship then just more negative things will happen,” he said.
Locally he sees some physical and verbal bullying, but he said the big problem is how to learn to intervene.
“We need to make sure students are aware on how to intervene.”
Learning how to step in to a situation is a crucial takeaway lesson. And it takes a bit of courage to do it.
“It’s hard for someone to be ‘you cannot do that.’ You have to get encouraged and you have to be that type of person who isn’t afraid,” said Chartrend. “You need to believe in yourself that good will come out of it.”
And with 60 per cent of situations resolving when someone steps in, he’s not wrong.