In less than two weeks schools across Canada, will be reopening their doors to welcome back students for another school year.
Every student’s mind, is on back to school shopping, and getting ready for new challenges that come along with the start of a new school year, such as learning new things, having a new teacher, new classmates, and so on.
Parents and school officials on the other hand, focus on school safety, because school safety could never take a back seat to anything else.
I asked my grandchildren – who are in grade 4 and 5 at Hammond Elementary in Maple Ridge this year – what do they know about school safety.
They quickly listed a number of things, that they are not supposed to do in the classroom and on the playground - from not standing on tables in the classroom, to how to react if they encounter a stranger, or a loose animal on school grounds.
Given the rush of teen suicides due to bullying, I asked them what, if any measures, their school has taken to prevent bullying and aggressive behavior.
My granddaughter who is the oldest, responded without hesitation, “WITS – walk away, ignore, talk it out, seek help.”
Her quick response reassured me that their school, is one of many others, that take bullying very seriously.
All schools should create an environment whereby children understand from the moment they start school that bullying, aggression and violence are not acceptable. A policy is a start, but it must be more than just words on paper.
Any anti-bullying policy or anti-bullying advice which fails to mention of accountability for the bully, and for the responsible adults who are failing in their duty of care, is likely to meet with at best limited success.
Positive behavior should be part of the national curriculum. The education system is still one where aggression is dominant, therefore popular students, those with sporting prowess, especially in those activities which require physical strength, should be encouraged to take the more vulnerable students ‘under their wing’ – a big brother program of sorts. The power of suggestion works wonders and the most powerful pupil tends to be the one, around who all others cluster.
Children should be taught at the onset, to show dignity and respect to other children, and to be proactive in their relationships to other children, especially those who "do not fit in", for whatever reason.
School policies should be written in plain language that every student, regardless of age, understands, and the concept of bullying should be clearly defined. Promoting better bystander behavior, and ways to prevent bullying should be a significant part of children’s social education and as such, part of the school curriculum.