An increase in bullying in a Merritt, B.C., high school has been reversed thanks to quick action from school staff and the community.
Early on in the school year, Merritt Secondary School's administration and the local school district noticed an increase in the number of students being sent to the office, more suspensions and notes from teachers about issues and witnessed more negative behaviour, including physical altercations between students.
"We wanted to be addressing it as quickly as possible," said school district 58 superintendent Steve McNiven.
The school then asked students to complete a survey to confirm their assumption that bullying was a growing problem.
The students said, yes, things were bad.
"You realize that sometimes you can say this will just go away, but, sometimes, you have to say we need to do something about this," said Merritt Secondary School principal Bruce Bidney.
So, the school took action. Staff increased supervision throughout the school and in the community. Some school clubs were created. The school invited local police, parents and city councillors to talk to students and find out what was going on, so they could address individual issues.
"From a district perspective, we do a lot of work around well-being," McNiven said. "It's our number one priority."
As a result of the school's initiatives, McNiven and Bidney said bullying has gone down over the past month.
"We're seeing a lot more of a positive feeling around the building," Bidney said. "Our staff has come together a lot more. We're out in the hallways. We're with the kids more often. The students are responding to it and feeling more safe and feeling heard."
"It's a good feeling right now coming into the holidays."
McNiven isn't sure what the reason was for the increase in conflicts. He said bullying does fluctuate year-to-year but, in recent years, the school had actually seen a decrease in bullying-related issues, which is why they wanted to respond to the students' concerns so quickly.
"It makes us question why are we seeing this in our district and what does it look like elsewhere," McNiven said.
Because they weren't able to identify a broader reason for the increase, the school says it is handling conflicts on an individual basis.