COVER STORY: Tsunami of caring on the North Shore

North Shore students turn into a sea of pink for Pink Shirt Day

"Think pink so bullies don't stink"

"Be a friend not a bully"

"Leave bullying to bulls, become human"

"The end of bullying begins with us"

These are some of the creative slogans a Grade 4/5 split class at Norgate elementary came up with for Pink Shirt Day, a national campaign to put an end to bullying.

Every student from kindergarten to Grade 7 carefully penned sayings on pink T-shirts that will be worn for the annual event on Feb. 27.

"It is one thing to wear a bought T-shirt with a ready-made logo and another to design thoughtful expressions of our feelings," says Fran Bourassa, the school's community education facilitator.

In another classroom, the motto "Somebody loves you," is written inside big sparkly red hearts, an homage to one of the second and third graders' favourite books about the effects of bullying.

Walking from class to class, Bourassa notes many students added personalized touches to the T-shirts they will wear to a school-wide meeting on Pink Shirt Day.

The event will be "a sea of pink, a veritable tsunami of caring," says Bourassa, proudly examining her students' creations.

Other classrooms across the North Shore are also getting creative.

Over at Gleneagles elementary in Horseshoe Bay, a flash mob recently stormed an assembly. Wearing pink T-shirts, the Grade 6 and 7 students ran to the front of the gym to surprise their younger audience with a choreographed routine to "What Makes You Beautiful" by hit tween band One Direction.

Used to performing for much bigger crowds, they weren't nervous among their teachers and peers.

Last month the classes joined 16 other schools in the Lower Mainland in an an

ti-bullying flash mob at a Vancouver Giants game. During the second intermission the elementary and high school students drew the crowd's attention by taking off their jackets to reveal T-shirts with one simple word, "Acceptance."

Social media lit up after the energetic dance, with One Direction's Liam Payne tweeting his support.

"We practised the dance for a month, the choreography wasn't easy," says their teacher Suzanne Fulton, who helped organize the flashmob with colleague Laura McLachlan. "One useful way we're helping stop bullying is by raising awareness through social media."


North Shore-wide movement

Schools on the North Shore are joining hundreds of others from across Canada to celebrate Pink Shirt Day, a movement that shows society will not tolerate bullying.

Two high school students from Nova Scotia launched the event when they stood up for a ninth grade boy who was bullied for wearing a pink shirt on the first day of school. The next day they bought 50 pink tank tops from a discount store and hauled them to school for all the boys to wear.

Now, on the other side of the country, schools in North and West Van are bringing attention to bullying, a topic that was once overlooked all too often as "just kids being kids."

"The fact that no one knew about [the flashmob] helps raise awareness. People can tell their friends what happened, and they can search for the video," says Grade 7 student Meryl Stevens before the assembly at Gleneagles.

Almost every hand was raised when the students were asked if they had been bullied some time in the past. It turns out, it doesn't matter how "cool" you are; anyone is vulnerable to aggressive behaviour.

"After you learn more, you don't see it as people just being mean, you see it as bullying," says Anna Gouthro, another Grade 7 student.

This sentiment is shared by Norgate elementary staff who want to show bullying doesn't have to be a part of growing up.

Last year some students bought T-shirts with anti-bullying slogans, but this time their CUPE Union stepped in with a donation so everyone could afford one.

"It's great to get all the kids involved so the meaning really sticks with them," says Bourassa. "This year they've really gotten into it. Look at how much effort they've put in."

The solution

In a community-wide effort to combat bullying, North Shore educators are looking at solutions to end aggressive behaviour.

"Children are not born as bullies," explains Sandra-Lynn Shortall, West Vancouver's district principal of early learning. "They're born into environments that can cause this."

Speaking on behalf of West Van Child and Family Hub, an organization that supports families with young children, Shortall says the goal is for families to raise caring children.

"It's not OK to label a child a bully. It's never that straightforward," she tells The Outlook, noting behaviour that seems aggressive can actually be part of normal development.

For example, it's natural for preschoolers to bump and push while learning about personal space, she says, so adults need to teach children how to behave instead of labeling them as bullies.

Instead of opting for quick solutions for students with aggressive behaviour such as suspension, Shortall says it's important to deal with each situation thoroughly.

"My greatest heartache, personally, is to see that labels do carry."

Educators in North Vancouver are taking a similar approach through social-emotional learning, a process of developing sympathy for others to help maintain positive relationships.

"We're teaching students about how their behavior affects the sense of belonging of others," says Vincent White, a councillor at Sutherland secondary.

The concept of "belonging,"  where each child feels safe and welcome at school, is central to how the district tackles bullying.

"It's a complex issue," says White. "There isn't one answer and it will be an ongoing discussion we're having with students."

At Gleneagles and Norgate elementary, the answer might lie in coming together as tight-knit schools where both teachers and students close the book on bullying.





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