By Ian Croft
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Despite Pink Shirt Day officially being on Feb. 22, Dr. Hamman School and many other schools celebrated a week early due to the 22nd falling on Reading Week.
Christopher Ward, Grade 5 teacher and vice-principal of Dr. Hamman Elementary School provided a general overview on what Pink Shirt Day is all about.
“So each year we have Pink Shirt Day to bring awareness to bullying and try and prevent bullying,” said Ward. “The story behind it is a child wore a pink shirt to school, was made fun of by other people in school. Some of the other kids saw that and then they thought, ‘hey we’re going to wear pink shirts the next day as a way to support that child,’ and that brought about Pink Shirt Day. I think it actually happened in eastern Canada, Nova Scotia. That’s how it came about so schools do it but also businesses do it as well in the community. Today is our Pink Shirt Day so the staff and students are wearing pink shirts to bring awareness to being nice people, and not being bullies.”
Alyson Archibald, principal of Dr. Hamman School spoke on some school-wide activities that they did to get ready for Pink Shirt Day.
“Our wellness coach has given us some school-wide activities we are participating in to decorate the school and bring awareness to anti-bullying,” said Archibald.
Ward continued on by discussing how for their students anti-bullying is not something they just do at school.
“As a school we’re always preaching the whole idea of acceptance of others, and not being a bully,” said Ward. “I’m sure we don’t catch every bullying incident, we do our utmost to prevent bullying in the school, and to make children aware that bullying is not acceptable, and we want to be nice to people in school, out of school, in all situations, in all settings. Anti-bullying is something that we’re on all the year, and we do our best to prevent it.”
Archibald also shared some stats in regards to the satisfaction that their students and parents feel when it comes to how the school handles bullying before also talking about some of the programs that they have to help prevent bullying.
“Our Horizon assurance results certainly show that we are a safe and caring school,” said Archibald. “(They are) well into the 90s for all students, staff and parents that were surveyed to believe that the school is a safe place and the kids believe that they are accepted and differences are recognized. We have a variety of programs that we bring into our health classes around the differences between conflict and bullying, and just really making sure people aren’t bystanders, but they stand up for people that are being bullied and bring it to the staff’s attention so it can be dealt with. We’re certainly actionable on any circumstances that are brought forward around bullying at our school.”
Ward then talked about some of the programs that they are using to help avoid bullying starting up in the first place.
“We also have our school teams which are cross graded to try and promote connections with age groups of our school,” said Ward. “So with younger kids and older kids. When kids are out on the playground, they don’t just know kids from their class or their grade. They know kids and other classes and other grades. To try and create more of a connectedness within the same population as well, and doing that helps prevent bullying. We also have Constable Nguyen, our school resource officer, he also helps teach those lessons of, ‘words have weight.’ It’s a phrase that he uses. Even calling kids names is not allowed.”
Adding onto this Archibald explained how the school actually utilizes the school resource officer in the pursuit of ending bullying.
“He’ll (Nguyen) partner with teachers to present different lessons in a variety of things around being safe in the community as well as at school,” said Archibald.
Ward also talked about how their programs are not just half measures, and are able to deal with serious matters.
“We have a threat assessment so if any child is threatened and uses very threatening language towards another child,” said Ward. “We have a division protocol that we have to follow, and that (gets) involved letting parents know, school counsellors (get) involved, the school resource officer (gets) involved, school administration (gets) involved. As I said, words have weight and you can’t shoot your mouth off and threaten children. That is very, very much in place.”
Archibald chimed in once again, explaining how the school likes to take a proactive approach when dealing with these matters.
“If it’s a minor situation, we would deal with that with the teacher, the parents, the kid, and through the administration if need be,” said Archibald. “We’re very actionable and any concerns that come forward related to bullying.”
Following this comment, Ward also talked about a de-escalation method that they use.
“There are cases where there is inter-student conflict, we will bring the students together to help them solve the problem, because sometimes children don’t have the skills or words to help them through expressing their feelings explaining why they felt bad when someone did something to them,” said Ward. “Teachers can help them work through that process, and then to conclusion where the child who has been the bully understands what they did was bullying, can apologize for it and the teachers there to sort of supervise to make sure that happens and to also make sure the victim feels that the end result is something that they’re comfortable with.”
Alberta’s Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange also released a statement acknowledging the importance of Pink Shirt Day.
“Demonstrating kindness to those around us helps create more inclusive environments where everyone feels safe and welcome,” said LaGrange. “It was bullying in the classroom that brought about the country’s first Pink Shirt Day. Two students stood up for another student who was being bullied, and because of that courageous act, we now honour Pink Shirt Day every February. Bullying can be a problem anywhere, whether it be in our schools, workplaces, homes or on the internet. It can also happen to anyone of any age, old or young. That is why it is important to choose to be kind to people around us.”
Jeremy Nixon, Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services, also took the time to release a statement highlighting some of the support systems that are in place from the Alberta government to help those who are affected by bullying.
“Bullying is never acceptable, and Alberta’s government wants to ensure that those who are bullied are able to access the supports they need,” said Nixon. “Ending bullying begins with awareness, which is why we encourage victims to talk to someone and receive the help they need. A simple gesture of high school students wearing pink to show support for a classmate who was bullied has gone on to become a day recognized across the country, known as Pink Shirt Day. There are many resources available to support victims of bullying. We encourage victims to utilize our 24-hour online chat or the 24-hour Bullying Helpline by dialing 310-1818. The impacts of bullying can be devastating for an individual, but by working together, we can make a real impact to make Alberta a safer place for all.”