In School District #72, much of the anti-bullying effort is focused on getting buy-in on the part of students on the frontline.
Superintendent Tom Longridge says the tragic suicide of Amanda Todd “illustrates that there are kids out there that are hurting but either don’t feel safe enough or are bound by peer pressure not to seek support from an adult.
“This district for a number of years prior to this very sad event…has worked to develop a caring community and develop an awareness amongst kids and adults in all of our system to take care of each other and to diminish the culture that creates the bullying scenario.”
Longridge adds: “That doesn’t mean we don’t continue to have challenges. When you have a number of kids together in school buildings and in the community they don’t all know how to regulate their behavior or have learned yet how to look after themselves and each other.”
However, the school district has had success empowering students to help each other.
Last year Timberline Secondary conducted a survey of students that identified which students would most likely stand up for individuals being bullied.
The result was a list of 48 student peers who could be mentors. They were provided with conflict resolution skills and mediation training and 16 of them were also provided with resiliency training through the John Howard Society. This group is active today and the mentor model is being applied to Southgate, the middle school that feeds Timberline.
“The result is kids working with kids. And that’s an inroad that has a lot of power. You need something ongoing to create a culture of caring,” Longridge says.
On top of existing awareness programs like Positive Behavior Support and WITS (Walk away, Ignore, Talk it out, Seek help) the district is also in the process of implementing the provincial ERASE Bullying Strategy (“Expect Respect And Safe Education”).
One of the core features will be a Smartphone app for kids to report bullying anonymously. Longridge expects the app to be functional in about a month.
“Quite often students are not going to adults for support. Teenagers have a sense of being very tied in to their own peer groups. Building bridges and mechanism in which they can report and feel they can report is vitally important.
“ERASE is really trying to involve parents, students and professionals in the district … to build awareness and sensitivity to the challenges we face in regard to school safety and bullying in particular.”
Longridge says cyber bullying is a particularly challenging because of its potential anonymity and the apparent feeling that there are no consequences because it is so hard to track.
“It is not just a question of supervision of the home computer, it is supervision of the phone,” he says. “Because of Smartphone technology (kids) have access to social networking 24/7. It is a very seductive medium. It is a very powerful medium. You can’t eliminate it because it is ubiquitous.”
Longridge says educators are fully engaged tackling the issue of bullying but they need help beyond the school yard. “We feel we are doing a number of things to support and educate our kids and create a safe environment but ultimately a challenge like this has to be seen as a community challenge.”
Renowned cyber bullying expert coming here
North America’s best known authority in the campaign to combat cyber bullying is headed for Campbell River.
Next week School District 72 is flying in world-renowned digital safety expert Parry Aftab to hold a town hall session with parents on cyber bullying and how to keep children and teens safe online.
The town hall meeting will be held Tuesday, Nov. 6 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Timberline Secondary School theatre, 1681 South Dogwood Street. Those interested in attending are asked to come early as space is limited.
In the fight against bullying Aftab has become something of a celebrity sought after by the Today Show, CNN and Good Morning America. She is an Internet privacy and security lawyer that has been working on cyber bullying and cyber harassment cases since 1995.
Aftab is also director of WiredSafety, a site where victims can receive one-on-one assistance when they have been bullied online. She runs StopCyberbulling.org, a website that contains a wealth of information and resources on cyber bullying. Aftab also serves on Facebook’s Safety Advisory Board and she created the Internet safety program for the Girl Scouts USA.
School District 72 Superintendent Tom Longridge says: “Technology and the introduction of social media have made the world our children are growing up in very different from the one we grew up in.
“Cyber bullying, sexting, and other forms of online exploitation often occur outside of school, but the effects carry over and have very damaging, or even tragic consequences. Sadly, this was highlighted again by the recent suicide of grade 10 Coquitlam student, Amanda Todd. Awareness and education are paramount to preventing bullying and we want to work with parents and our community to find solutions to this societal problem.”
Aftab will also be visiting local schools to work directly with students and teachers. She will also meet with some of the school district’s community partners such as the RCMP and the John Howard Society.