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Standing up to bullying

On Feb. 29, schools across Canada will be recognizing Anti-Bullying Day, which started five years ago when two high school students in Nova Scotia organized a mass pink shirt day to stand up to bullies who had targeted a boy who came to school in a pink shirt. At Ladysmith Secondary School, Roots Club members will hand out pink shirts to students and staff. That includes Hilary Jahelka (kneeling), Leah Howitt (left) and Kat CunninghamFor the hundreds of victims who have been bullied into silence, students and adults alike across Ladysmith are coming together to take a stand and make their voices heard.

And on Weds., Feb. 29, that wave of support will come in the form of a sea of pink — pink shirts, that is.

Local schools are participating in Pink Shirt Day, a national bullying prevention campaign organized by the Boys and Girls Clubs. Over the years, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Vancouver Island have taken a lead role in raising awareness and helping families deal with bullying.

Niki Stuart, licensed program supervisor for Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Vancouver Island — Ladysmith Child and Family Center, says there will be activities in the days leading up to Pink Shirt Day during their after-school programs.

“The leaders will do scenarios that help set the stage for bullying awareness,” she said. “They will come up with their own statements on how they can be a good friend, and then we post those up in our main hallway for all the parents to see when they come in.”

Stuart called bullying a pervasive issue in today’s society.

“Kids are so used to the language of bullying, they don’t realize they’re doing it,” she said. “Most of the school-aged kids, when you talk to them, know exactly what you’re talking about and can give you the answers of what they should be doing, but they turn around and do it anyway.”

Part of the solution lies in empowering students to be proactive bystanders, Stuart said.

“Often, a bystander won’t say or do anything because it’s the cool kids that are doing the bullying, and often the person being bullied is not strong enough or too scared to,” she said. “Prevention starts first with education, and awareness, but in the bigger picture, it is us as adults that have to follow through with consequences for children.”

At Ladysmith Secondary School, members of the Roots Club will hand out free pink shirts to students and staff alike.

“We want the whole school involved,” said Grade 12 Roots member Hilary Jakelka. “As a Grade 8 leader, it troubles me to see when kids are being bullied, and I want to make this place somewhere safe that they want to come, not somewhere where they have to hide in the washroom at lunch time.”

Bullying can take on many forms — verbal, cyber, physical or social to name a few. Jahekla and fellow Roots members Kat Cunningham and Leah Howitt agree that the most prominent type of bullying at LSS is verbal, resulting in seclusion of students.

“Everyone feels like they’re the only one; they don’t realize [there are others],” Howitt said. “It’s something we see every day, and you feel kind of powerless against it, for the most part.”

At Ecole Davis Road, bullying education and prevention is a year-round venture, said principal Doug English.

“Bullying is an issue that has happened for many years, so we’re constantly educating the kids,” he said. “It’s something that’s a daily thing. You don’t just talk about bullying and put programs into place on one day of the year.”

LSS counsellor Michele Steele is one of a solid support team for students to turn to when they are being bullied.

She believes more bullying is taking place behind closed doors, and she is hoping raised awareness will prompt students to seek the help they need.

“We’re really happy when kids come to us as counsellors and administrators to be able to address it,” she said. “It’s awful to think of any student experiencing it.”

Some of the signs a child is being bullied include loss of appetite, bed-wetting, loss of self esteem, sudden aggression or attitude change, and unexplained broken belongings and bruises. If left unaddressed, a bullying victim can be subject to failure in school, depression and thoughts of suicide.

Statistics from Bullying Canada state that one out of every five kids is a bully, and one out of four kids are being bullied.

Approximately 282,000 high school students are attacked each month nationally, the statistics say.

According to a new survey by Harris-Decima, 50 per cent of adults polled said they were bullied as a child or teen. Furthermore, a third of those said they believed the abuse they suffered caused lasting harm.

Pink Shirt Day began five years ago when two teenage boys from Nova Scotia organized a synchronized pink day to support a boy who had been bullied for wearing a pink shirt.

Local residents can show their support by purchasing a pink shirt through the Boys and Girls Club or London Drugs and wearing it on Feb. 29.

Ladysmith Chronicle – Standing up to bullying

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