As we all know the issue of bullying has been brought to the forefront of everyone’s minds, and the media, over the past couple of weeks due to the tragic death of Amanda Todd, a Coquitlam youth who took her own life as a result of bullying.
This issue has affected youth in Lake Cowichan as well, but students at Lake Cowichan Secondary are taking a pro-active stance and have inadvertently come up with a unique way to help deal with the problem.
Ashley Pastor and Destiny Skramstad say they and their friends found a note left on the wall in the girl’s bathroom at LCSS. The note was one of encouragement and support for anyone finding themselves as the victim of bullying.
“We don’t know who the note was from,” said Skramstad. “We really felt inspired.”
More notes of encouragement and understanding were soon added to this initial one.
“We really liked the idea of encouraging people and sitting them down and telling them that, yeah there are bullies out there, but we really want them to come to their friends and trust in us,” said Skramstad.
But Pastor and Skramstad say they didn’t think it was fair that these words of encouragement were only being displayed in the girls bathroom.
“The boys go through a lot too,” said Skramstad. “And you know, all kids have been bullied.”
So they decided to take the “Together We Stand” wall to the next level and bring it out to where the whole school could benefit from it.
“We decided that we wanted to take this on as a leadership project and make a wall in the school that people can post anything positive about staying strong and being there for each other,” said Skramstad.
The project has just gotten underway, but the words and notes of encouragement will now be featured in the hallway across from the theatre beside where the lunch program takes place every day.
Students will have access to paper, tape, and pens at all times of the day so they too can add their thoughts of encouragement or share their stories of being bullied, or even if they are just going through a hard time.
“You can either put your name on it, or you can be anonymous,” said Skramstad.
These students have also created a Facebook page to allow for an online extension of the project.
“What’s great about it is you can post onto our [Facebook] wall and we’ll put it up [on the school wall] for you,” said Pastor.
In this way, Pastor and Skramstad hope that they can reach out to all youth in the community and tackle the problem of bullying outside of the school setting.
“We encourage anybody within our community to come down here, even just to look at it,” said Pastor. “Because, I know just reading through the posters we’ve made already it just makes you feel happy and good about yourself, and that’s our goal, is to make people feel good.”
Both Pastor and Skramstad have experienced bullying first hand, so they feel they know what it’s like to go through it, and they both feel that no-one should ever feel alone or have no-one to reach out to.
Nicole Boucher, LCSS’s new principal, says she was moved by the initiative and caring shown by the actions of all who contributed to the wall.
“It’s really wonderful and positive,” said Boucher.
Boucher says it’s important that students report issues of bullying to their teacher or to someone else with whom they feel safe.
“It’s critical that if kids are being bullied, picked on, or teased, they need to report it. Often teachers don’t find out about it until way down the road because it hadn’t been reported,” said Boucher.
She adds that when an incident or issue is reported, school staff work quickly to try and help deal with the problem and to ensure that the students who are at fault learn that bullying behaviour is unacceptable.
“I always tell kids that if they have reported an incident and the issue hasn’t been resolved, to tell us that it is still continuing. If the problem is still there, we can look at it again and do something different. Maybe the first action was not effective,” said Boucher.
But Boucher says that action is never taken without first making sure that the student who is the target of the bullying has approved of the plan.
“Our job is to make sure that students are safe,” said Boucher.
She adds that often the kids who are perceived to be doing the bullying are not actually acting out of any kind of malicious intent, and that they just need to be taught social skills.
“Sometimes they need help learning those skills, so we coach as we go. We don’t necessarily see them as a bully; students need to learn to treat each other properly. But even though their intent may not have been malicious, this still doesn’t take away from how [negative words or actions] make you feel.”
A recent internet and social media presentation at the school by Darren Laur, a law enforcement professional, seems to have had an impact on many of the students at LCSS.
Even though Laur’s presentation was geared towards educating students and parents about keeping kids safe online from internet predators, the information he conveyed about cyber bullying hit home for many students. According to Boucher, Laur has received many messages from LCSS students, some of them even saying that his presentation has changed their lives.
“He made himself available to students,” said Boucher. “He told them that if they ever needed help, to call him, and if they are being bullied, he would track the bully down. Students are still talking to teachers about how powerful it was.”
To “like” Pastor and Skramstad’s Facebook page, search “Together we Stand.”