Thursday April 17, 2014

Vigil seeks an end to bullying

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The piper played a mournful tune and marched into the gymnasium followed by first responders, political dignitaries and a group of high school anti-bullying facilitators.

The student body of Dr. Brass School and visiting classes from Yorkdale Central School sat in sombre silence as six candles were lit to commemorate 14 young women cut down in their prime by a mad gunman 24 years ago.

Although the candlelight vigil December 6, the anniversary of the "Montreal Massacre," looked to the past in grief, its more important purpose was looking to the future with hope.

"I think the importance is reaching out to young people," said Yorkton Mayor Bob Maloney, who along with MLA Greg Ottenbreit represented the City and Province at the ceremony.

"When you look at bullying and those types of things, young people are most affected. As you heard today things get better as you get older, but there's been so many groups that have an outreach towards children and I think that's where it starts and, hopefully, if young people can learn to be good to each other then bullying goes away."

Two of those organizations of which the mayor spoke are the Red Cross and Shelwin House, the co-sponsors of Friday's event.

The Red Cross trains high school kids to be youth facilitators with its Beyond the Hurt Bullying Prevention program. At the beginning of November 41 students from Yorkton Regional High School participated in the two-day workshop, the largest cohort of any school in Saskatchewan the Red Cross has done to date.

"They work together to create activities to prevent bullying in their schools and we give them tools to work in their own schools and stand up to bullying," said Melanie Horton the Red Cross outreach coordinator for Yorkton.

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Those students then also do outreach to the elementary schools, such as the vigil at Dr. Brass.

Sierra Unick was co-emcee of the ceremony along with William Smith, both Grade 9 at the Regional.

"This vigil, for me, I've never partaken of one before, so to emcee this is really meaningful," she said. "Being bullied in the past and everything myself has taken a toll out of me and I'm just really enjoying being able to spread the word and hoping that other kids don't have to experience some of the things I've experienced in my life."

Horton said the approach of having older kids do outreach to younger ones has proven to be very effective.

"Students teaching peer-to-peer is much more effective than teacher- or parent-to-peer," she said. "Statistics show when a student just says, 'stop, hey, that's not cool,' the bullying behaviour usually stops within about 10 seconds and it usually does not repeat itself."

Shelwin House also works with young people. The shelter has been running two six-week programs called "The Kids Group" at Dr. Brass, on Tuesdays for Kindergarten to Grade 3 and Wednesday for Grades 4 to 6.

"We target issues like anger, recognizing it and dealing with anger instead of just hitting somebody; roles and responsibilities; what it is to be a student or sibling; respect for yourself and for other people; knowing yourself; and subjects like that," said Julie Ockochinski, a child support worker with Shelwin House.

"Children are a gift and we want them to feel good about themself as they reach adulthood."



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