Focus on fight against bullying in Canadian schools

·7 min read

Pink Shirt Day is an annual reminder of the fight against bullying in Canadian schools.

Pink Shirt Day began in 2007 when a boy was bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school in Nova Scotia. The following day another student and his friends showed their support by wearing pink shirts of their own to school.

Since it became an official event in 2008, Pink Shirt Day has seen around $2.55 million distributed to various anti-bullying support programs for students.

In past years, many schools would have assemblies or speakers to teach them about the importance of anti-bullying, but due to the current pandemic restrictions it is not possible.

Schools have instead come up with their own creative ways to teach students about the importance of kindness and empathy.

McNaughton High School, Moosomin

Due to the current pandemic restrictions, McNaughton High School had left it up to the teachers to educate their classes about the impacts of cyberbullying

Sherrie Meredith, Vice-Principal of McNaughton High School, explains that the focus on bullying is something maintain all year long.

“There are lots of people who are showing their support for the cause by wearing pink, both staff and students. This is not just a one-day issue, but this is an everyday thing. If you only deal with something on one day, you’re not doing justice to the cause.” Normally, McNaughton High School would have speakers and activities for the students, but due to pandemic regulations, they are unable to have visitors or merge classes. Meredith also notes that the rise of cyberbullying is something that has been on their radar.

“I do think cyberbullying is more prevalent now than ever. It’s a difficult time because, at one point, your bully was just the person you’d have to face on the schoolyard or uptown. But now they can follow you right into your home on your device. It’s something that I never had to grow up with. I think the cyber-bullying issue is the most prevalent thing we’re focusing on.” Meredith explained that the school administrators encourage students to approach them with questions and concerns regarding bullying, as it is something she says they take very seriously.

“We have an open-door policy here, and we express to our students that it is important for them to report. We are diligent and watch out for these things. But especially with cyber-bullying, that’s something families have to be aware of as much of the cyber-bullying is occurring on evenings and weekends. We just really want to keep an open conversation and we take this very seriously.”

MacLeod Elementary School Moosomin

Students at MacLeod School were able to pick if they wanted to dress up for Pink Shirt Day or for 100th Day, or both.

“We did a combination of wearing pink shirts and dressing up for the 100th Day, so we have some people who are wearing pink shirts, some people who are half-and-half, and some people who that look like they’re 100. So we have a smattering of things going on today. Each teacher is doing their own activities in their classrooms. Things like gym activities with the theme of 100, things like asking the students ‘what you would do if you have $100 or $100,000?’ All sorts of fun activities throughout the day,” said Cole.

Like many other schools in Canada, they have had to keep the activities isolated to their classrooms.

“Some teachers are reading books about kindness and having discussions with their class about it. It’s left to each teacher this year because we are all stuck in our own classrooms and can’t go around with other classes to mix things up. We have done things in the past like kindness campaigns and had hearts that we stuck on a wall. We haven’t been able to do a few things this year, but each classroom and each teacher is doing a great job of turning it into their own things within the classroom all day long.”

Cole says that educating students at a young age about bullying is important. One of their focuses was largely on talking about being kind to one another.

“There is just so much more of that and kids are exposed to it at a very young age and so today it’s about recognizing bullying. We talked to the kids about think pink to remind them about being kind. We also talked to them about how what we do each day to others makes a world of difference in kindness and therefore we’re promoting kindness all of the time, not just today. It’s just today is the day we get everybody to think about it and think of ways we can keep up the kindness. We talk to the kids about the word ‘bully’ and how there are ways we can all do our part to help others. And that’s through kind actions each day.”

Cole notes that she sees many students being kind to one another in their school, something that she says is always good to see.

“The interesting thing is that I see kind acts and deeds all the time through kind acts and kind notes. Valentine’s Day was one that we saw students just writing kind notes about other kids, or to myself and their teachers. At an elementary level, we use the word ‘kind’ all the time. Even on the playground, we tell them to not forget to play safe and play kind. We’re hoping that we use those words often, that we can change that mindset and help them make better choices on kindness.”

Kipling Elementary School

For Kipling Elementary School, the topic of cyberbullying has been one that’s come up throughout the pandemic.

With students utilizing technology now more than ever, Grade 7 teacher Kayla Czerwonka has noted more incidents regarding cyberbullying.

To take part in Pink Shirt Day, however, Czerwonka says they utilized different resources that were made available.

“There are some resources online, there are some Canadian national resources and then there are resources through the Red Cross, and the Saskatchewan Government had some resources that we used as well. So we talked about the importance of anti-bullying and we talked about cyberbullying, what is bullying, and some online safety. I think students don’t really understand what is safe to share online and what is not. We went through some scenarios and how we could respond to specific events and how we could stand up to bullying and help out others,” said Czerwonka.

She says that while they weren’t able to take part in group activities due to public health order, the students were receptive to the information that was presented.

“The students were awesome through the lessons. They were very involved and it was really awesome. They wanted to learn and they wanted to do the scenarios. They really liked talking them through with the groups and figuring out different ways they could respond.”

Czerwonka says that she focused largely on cyberbullying as it is something that’s only become more prevalent since the pandemic began.

“This year has been really intense with cyberbullying and inappropriate messages and asking for inappropriate things online. I thought it was really important we talked about what is an acceptable use of technology and what is not. This year, more than ever, I’ve had a lot of issues with students in various grades having issues around that. So I thought it was very important that we discussed what that looks like and how we could prevent it as well as what we can do when we get messages like that.”

She adds that it is important to learn the harmful effects of bullying as you never know what someone else may be going through.

“I’ve found lately that there’s been more of a rise in mental health issues and we’ve talked about social justice in my class as well. Everyone is fighting a battle that we know nothing about. We have no idea what is going on in another person’s life and we need to be aware of that and we need to be kind. There’s so much going on in the world right now with some very scary things. If we don’t make our classrooms and our circles safe, it makes things a lot harder.”

Spencer Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World-Spectator