Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/1/2013 (1203 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Taped to the wall outside teacher Chris Arnold's classroom at Windsor School in St. Vital is a nondescript, handwritten poster.
It may not look like much, but it represents one of the innovative ways the Class of 2017 -- whose progress the Free Press is tracking from snack time in kindergarten to graduation gowns at the end of Grade 12 -- is helping to keep its school safe and free from bullying.
Printed in green ink, this "class contract" lists 17 ways this group of Grade 8 students has agreed to behave -- "Responsible, listen to rules, hands to yourself" -- during the hours they spend together at the 238-student, K-8 school.
"At the beginning of the year, we brainstormed what our definition of a quality classroom looks like, sounds like and feels like," explains Arnold, in his 12th year at Windsor School and one of two homeroom teachers for the Class of 2017.
"By doing that, we're outlining what the expectations are going to be for every student in the room. It outlines the expectations for social and academic behaviour."
There's a similar "class contract" posted outside every classroom in the school, including the class of Danelle Bradshaw, the other homeroom teacher for the Class of 2017, now in its final year in junior high.
Bullying is definitely not running rampant at Windsor School, but it's a hot-button issue for educators and students throughout the country, partly because of two high-profile incidents that have cast a spotlight on the problem like never before.
The issue of bullying grabbed international headlines after the October 2012 suicide of 15-year-old Port Coquitlam, B.C., student Amanda Todd, who has become Canada's poster child for bullying victims and teenage suicide.
Several weeks before her death, Todd posted a heartbreaking video on YouTube, in which her face peeked over the top of hand-printed note cards detailing the abuse she faced online and her descent into severe depression.
The nation mourned openly for a teen whose social-media tormentors not only dared her to take her own life, but rejoiced in cyberspace when she did.
Further from home, there was an overwhelming outpouring of support after an infamous cellphone video posted online showed Karen Klein, a 68-year-old bus monitor in upstate New York, fielding profane taunts and outright threats from a group of middle-school students during a bus run last June.
Sickened by the video, a Toronto man launched an online fundraising campaign that ended with the bullied American grandmother being handed a cheque for $703,000.
In the midst of renewed efforts throughout the country to battle bullying, the Free Press decided to get a fresh perspective from a group of kids on the front lines, the Class of 2017, most of whom say they have never been bullied.
Last year, their first in junior high, these kids bid farewell to recess and sitting in the same classroom all day long. This year, in Grade 8, they've climbed to the top rung of the ladder at Windsor School. Along with thinking about what courses they'll take next year in high school -- when they return to the bottom of the pecking order -- the expectation is they'll serve as role models and help keep their school free from bullying.
No one needs to explain the anguish of bullying to 13-year-old Mackenzie.
"In Grade 6, I did" get bullied, she recalls. "A bunch of kids were picking on me because I celebrate a different holiday than them -- Hanukkah. They would kind of say, like, racist slurs and jokes."
In fact, Mackenzie says she came to Windsor School to escape bullying at another elementary school.
"At my other school, kids used to kick me in the hallway and trip me. It made me feel like I was smaller than them, and most of the time I was smaller than them. They were just a little bit taller than me."
In the end, after talking to her parents and the principal, she says she switched to Windsor School, where she feels she has more friends and a more welcoming environment.
"I've seen some of my other friends get bullied in grades 5 and 6," Mackenzie says. "Just for little things -- the way they dress or the way they do something; they'll get bullied for it."
Asked the best way to deal with the problem, she responds with self-confidence that belies her youth.
"It's kind of hard to solve because sometimes when you go to tell someone, it can make it worse because they know it bugs you."
Like Mackenzie, 13-year-old Shelby talks openly about how it feels to be the target of school bullies.
"I was bullied from Grade 4 to Grade 6," she recalls matter-of-factly. "It got really bad in Grade 6 because I had a friend that turned against me. It was mostly them saying stuff to me.
"Mostly it wasn't physical, though I did get punched in the stomach. In my opinion, being made fun of hurts more than being punched."
But Shelby makes it clear she has weathered the storm.
"They'd say you're fat or stuff like that," she recalls. "Once you bring someone's looks into it, you've lost the fight already. It was really stupid stuff, but it gets to you after a while.
"I told my parents about it, but it was resolved when the two people bullying me left at the end of Grade 6."
Like most of the Class of 2017, Shelby doesn't feel bullying is a major issue at Windsor School, but, like her classmates, warns the worst thing anyone can do is turn a blind eye to the problem.
If a student feels they've been bullied, she says, "they should tell an adult because they do know what they're talking about. It's better to talk to someone, because if you deal with it by yourself, it's not going to get better.
"If bullies think you're not going to do anything about it, they'll just continue doing it because no one's going to stop them."
Her advice: "Friends should stick up for their friends. It doesn't even have to be their friend. And teachers can pay more attention. When I was bullied, the teachers didn't know until I told them because they weren't paying attention."
While there is name-calling and taunting and the odd push or shove in the hallway, hardcore bullying isn't a common occurrence for the Class of 2017.
Still, they largely echo 12-year-old Sydney's support for the class contracts posted outside every classroom.
"They make sure everyone knows the guidelines of what we should be doing," Sydney explains. "It's not always followed but it's good for people to have a visual. We're the oldest kids so we need to be leaders."
You don't have to be the victim of bullying at school or online to understand the pain it can cause.
Jesse, 13, recalls how he felt seeing a younger student being picked on several years ago.
"The kid was in the middle and they called him names," Jesse says. "I think a teacher came and stopped it. It made me feel I didn't want to be that person in the middle or one of the bullies.
"You need to get everybody involved. Most people just ignore bullies, but maybe we could ask them why they do it."
Not all of the Grade eights are sold on the power of posting class contracts, however. Noah, 13, one of the Class of 2017's most independent thinkers, has his doubts.
"Bullies don't respond to that," Noah tells a visitor. "They think it's a joke. You can't just say, 'No violence, no swearing.' That's not going to stop someone."
He fears the problem of bullying is larger than educators and parents realize.
"Everyone at some time has been called a name or had their books pushed over," he points out. "Everyone at some time has been bullied. There's small forms of bullying and you can't stop that, because people are people. Treating someone with less respect is bullying."
While Noah doubts the effectiveness of punishment, the young man with a serious sense of humour says there have to be consequences for bullies.
"You can't just say, 'I'm letting you off with a warning.' For serious bullies, there has to be some form of punishment."
Quinn, 13, says the best way to stop bullying in its tracks is for kids to stand up for themselves and their classmates.
"When I was young, I thought all bullies should be expelled," he says, thoughtfully. "But now I realize that wouldn't solve anything because they'd go to other schools and keep bullying.
"Now that I'm older, I think people should stand up to them and say something about it. If they see someone getting bullied, they should say: 'Hey! That's not OK! You can't treat them like that!' "
After a few moments, Quinn proudly adds: "I definitely want to be a lawyer, because I want to help people who don't have power."
Windsor principal Ann Walker says the ultimate goal of all the school's policies and strategies is to create an environment where bullying doesn't occur, and if something does happen, the student feels comfortable reporting it to an adult.
Along with the class contracts, the hallway walls at Windsor are decorated with anti-bullying posters and colourful student artwork that bears positive messages such as "Be kind" or "Play peacefully."
Walker isn't overly fond of the word bullying itself, saying it oversimplifies a complex issue. "It's such a simple term for a very complex set of situations," she warns. "Each situation is different and unique.
"We have had instances that you could call bullying in a general sense, but it's always more complicated than a single word can describe."
Walker and teacher Chris Arnold point out students can come into conflict without it meeting the definition of bullying.
Walker says the school strives to promote the positive and to provide students with strategies for coping with conflict. There are programs to teach kids how to protect themselves while online, for instance. And the Class of 2017 routinely conducts a "circle of power and respect," wherein they discuss issues, such as the suicide of Amanda Todd after years of cyberbullying.
The school also employs a unique five-point scale that allows students to rate how they're feeling -- from happy to very angry -- and consider strategies for coping with problems. "If a child is feeling bullied in our school, we hope they will tell an adult and then we can look into the situation because bullying will not be tolerated," the principal says.
"Often times the person accused of being a bully is the person who needs help," she says. "We want to help kids. We need to know if people are feeling unsafe or sad or uncomfortable.
"I'm not saying bullying doesn't happen. It does and we need to intervene. Adults need to help students. If an incident occurs, the school investigates, contacts parents or guardians, typically holds a meeting with them and provides support on both sides."
For their part, the Class of 2017 feel safe in their school, but have no shortage of ideas on how society can keep bullies at bay.
Griffin, the class's 13-year-old hockey-loving philosopher, says the answer lies in accentuating the positive.
"Wherever you are, bullying is always going to take place," he says, stoically. "But how you handle it is going to be the difference-maker. If somebody keeps aggravating you, tell them to stop. If they keep doing it, tell a teacher, tell your parents.
"If you see a kid you don't normally talk to, maybe talk to him more and ask him to hang out. That'll help kids not get so down when they're sad. They'll keep their chin up and turn the other cheek and move forward."
Arnold sums it up by saying he is extremely proud of the level of leadership, maturity and sheer courage displayed by the Class of 2017.
"I think we've got a really positive dynamic with these students," the teacher says, beaming. "I think this is a really positive place. We've talked specifically about bullying and the role of the bystander.
"If you're not helping solve the problem, you're part of it. But we also recognize that it's not easy to do. It takes a lot of courage for a student to stand up and say, 'That's not cool.' Because everyone is afraid of being a target themselves."