Monday, May 09, 2005

Schools square off against bullies

PUBLICATION: The Ottawa Citizen
DATE: 2005.05.09
EDITION: Final
SECTION: News
PAGE: A4
BYLINE: Sarah Schmidt
SOURCE: The Ottawa Citizen
DATELINE: CARLETON PLACE
ILLUSTRATION: Photo: Wayne Cuddington, The Ottawa Citizen / St. Gregoryelementary school students Mackenzie Harding, 6, Michelle Vala, 9, and Holly Latimer, 6, play a game of 'peace bingo,' one of the latest school initiatives across Canada to combat bullying. The Carleton Place school's game is played by calling out words like respect, kindness and safe instead of letters and numbers.

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Schools square off against bullies: A bingo game that teaches kindness is the latest tool educators are using get children to respect each other. The big question now, though, is whether it will work, Sarah Schmidt reports.

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CARLETON PLACE - At St. Gregory elementary school here, kids get to play a giant game of "peace bingo" as part of an initiative to create a positive climate and stamp out bullying.

Students in Surrey, B.C., Can Confidentially Report Incidents of Bullying on a New Website, the First of Its Kind in Canada to Use An Online Tip Box to Tackle Bullying in Schools. in Winnipeg, Students are Being Trained This Month to Develop Peer-Led Anti-Bullying Workshops in Their Junior High and High Schools as Part of a Pilot Project Aimed at Convincing Children Not to Stay Silent When Bullies Zero in on Their Targets.

And, beginning next fall, schools in Windsor, Ont., will be competing against one another for the designation of "Peace School," an honour to be bestowed by the city's Rotary Club for a positive school culture and a successful pledge to curb bullying and other forms of violence.

With reports of the high incidence of bullying in schools -- and a growing body of research showing the toll this abuse takes on its victims -- educators across Canada are busy testing out new ways to tackle the problem.

The trickier task will be to figure out whether these experiments work.

Research conducted by Canadian experts in bullying shows many anti-bullying programs are largely ineffective, and in some cases even produce negative results -- meaning the incidence of bullying actually rises.

Even Liz Sandals, a member of the Ontario legislature and head of the province's Safe Schools Action Team, concedes monitoring the effectiveness of anti-bullying programs must be improved to discover what works best. The Ontario government is launching an initiative in the fall to implement anti-bullying programs in every school in the province.

At St. Gregory's, principal David McGahey is realistic about his school's project. Earlier this year, Mr. McGahey signed up with Peaceful Schools International, a program founded by Nova Scotia educator Hetty van Gurp after her son, Ben, died in a bullying incident at school.

The goal is to create a culture of peace in schools: including building a sense of community, teaching children to respect one another and becoming intolerant of bullying behaviour.

"The way I look at it is, it's a work in progress," said Mr. McGahey. "Now I can talk the language of bullying. It's not a one-year project and you check the box. It's got to start somewhere, and you keep going."

Last week, St. Gregory had a school-wide game of peace bingo, with the boards filled with words like respect, kindness, safe, helping hands, community, fairness, acceptance and peacemakers.

In Winnipeg, Marian Hijkoop, program co-ordinator for the RespectED program, is working with three school districts to train junior high and high school students to lead their anti-bullying workshops.

Ms. Hijkoop admits the pilot project, focusing on bystanders, is too new to know whether it's working, but says initial feedback shows students are "quite pleased to get this information from their peers."

However, she's very definite in her views about traditional anti-bullying programs that focus on the bully and the victim.

"They've tried for years to focus on the bully and the victim, and it's not working. That's what I hear from school administrators: There's power in numbers. They do it for coolness. The bystanders are giving them that power," Ms. Hijkoop said. "If you take that away -- if they're not getting that payoff, that feedback -- peer pressure can be really strong."

The Surrey school district is boosting more traditional anti-bullying programs in its schools with the new online tip line where students can share or obtain information.

The "psst" website -- Protecting Surrey Schools Together -- is being launched this week. Already, the website has received a tip about a bullying incident at an elementary school, which was passed on to the principal.

"It's a problem that is a long time in coming, and it's not going to go away overnight," Ms. Hijkoop said.

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